German wary of Ukrainian weapons ingrained in political culture – The Associated Press – en Español

German wary of Ukrainian weapons ingrained in political culture – The Associated Press – en Español

BERLIN (AP) – Germany has emerged as one of Ukraine’s leading arms suppliers in the 11 months since the Russian invasion, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also earned a reputation for hesitating any new move, causing impatience among allies.

Berlin’s perceived follow-up, most recently on the Leopard 2 main battle tanks that Kyiv has long sought, is rooted at least in part in a post-WWII political culture of military caution, along with today’s concerns about a possible escalation of the war.

On Friday, Germany moved closer to a decision on the delivery of the tanks and ordered a review of its Leopard inventory in preparation for a possible green light.

But there was still no commitment. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius dismissed the suggestion that Germany was in the way, but said: “We have to weigh all the pros and cons before deciding things like that just like that.”

It’s a pattern that’s repeated over the months, as Scholz initially held back from promising new, heavier gear, but then eventually agreed.

Most recently, Germany announced in early January that it would send 40 Marder armored personnel carriers to Ukraine in a joint announcement with the US, which pledged 50 Bradley armored vehicles.

This decision followed months of calls for Berlin to send in the Marder and fueled pressure to take it a step further to the Leopard tank.

“There’s a disconnect between the actual scale of the engagement and arms shipments — it’s Europe’s second largest supplier — and the reluctance with which it’s happening,” said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, a Berlin-based senior analyst at the think tank’s German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Scholz, an unwaveringly confident politician with a stubborn streak and little sense of bowing to public calls to action, consistently sticks to his line. He has said that Germany will not go it alone on weapons decisions, noting the need to avoid NATO becoming a direct party to the war with Russia.

As the pressure mounted last week, he explained that he would not let “excited comments” push him into important security decisions. And he insisted that a majority in Germany supports his government’s “calm, considered and careful” decision-making.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday, Scholz listed some of the equipment Germany has sent to Ukraine, saying it represents “a profound turning point in German foreign and security policy.”

That is at least partly true. Germany refused to supply deadly weapons before the invasion began, reflecting a political culture partly rooted in the memory of Germany’s own history of 20th-century aggression – including the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

“No German chancellor, from any party, wants to be seen as a frontman when pushing a military agenda – they want to try all other options before resorting to them,” Kleine-Brockhoff said. “And that’s why it is seen as positive for domestic consumption that a German chancellor is not leading the way here, is cautious, resists, and has tried all other options.”

Scholz faces calls from Germany’s centre-right opposition and some in his three-party governing coalition to be more proactive on military aid; less of his own centre-left Social Democratic Party, steeped for decades in the legacy of Cold War rapprochement that haunted predecessor Willy Brandt in the early 1970s.

Scholz “decided early on that he didn’t want to be a military leader in helping Ukraine,” said Kleine-Brockhoff, but “he wants to be a good ally and part of the alliance and in the midfield.”

But the cautious approach “drives allies insane” and raises questions about whether they can rely on the Germans, Kleine-Brockhoff conceded.

Berlin remained wary of the Leopard tank even after Britain announced last week that it would provide Ukraine with its own Challenger 2 tanks.

The hesitation is not just an issue between Berlin and Kyiv, as other countries would need Germany’s permission to send their own stocks of German-made leopards to Ukraine. On Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Warsaw would consider surrendering its tanks without Berlin’s permission.

“Consent is secondary here. We’ll either get it quickly or we’ll do the right thing ourselves,” Morawiecki said.

British historian Timothy Garton Ash wrote in The Guardian and other newspapers this week that “the German government’s position on military support to Ukraine has come a long way since the eve of the Russian invasion.”

But he argued that the tank issue “has become a litmus test of Germany’s courage to resist nuclear blackmail (of Russian President Vladimir Putin), to overcome its own national cocktail of fears and doubts, and to defend a free and sovereign Ukraine,” and that Scholz should lead a “European Leopard Plan”.

It remains to be seen whether that will ultimately happen. The Scholz government has insisted on close coordination with the US, which may be partly because Germany – unlike Britain and France – relies on the US nuclear deterrent.

On Friday, Scholz spokesman Steffen Hebestreit denied reports that Germany had insisted on supplying Leopard tanks only if the US sent Abrams tanks of its own. He dismissed the notion that Berlin was lagging behind and insisted it was taking the right approach.

“These are not easy decisions and they need careful consideration,” he said. “And it’s about them being sustainable, everyone being able to pull along and stand behind them — and part of leadership is holding an alliance together.”

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