Pushing and braking: The Chancellor’s dual strategy on Ukraine

With his Taurus declaration, Chancellor Scholz wanted to end a debate that had been going on for months. The opposite happened. Now there is also anger among the allies.

It was actually supposed to be a liberation in a debate in which Chancellor Olaf Scholz had remained silent for months. After his Taurus statement on Monday, everyone knows why he doesn’t want to deliver the cruise missiles to Ukraine. However, the debate has intensified rather than calmed down over the course of the week. His coalition partners show little understanding for his arguments and continue to push forward. The opposition accuses him of wanting to portray himself as a “peace chancellor.” And now the alliance partners are also angry.

The explanation: No German participation in the war

The core of the Chancellor’s statement on Taurus is a red line that Scholz drew immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine two years ago: Germany must not be drawn into this war. In his view, this is not the case with the previous weapons deliveries for the defensive fight against Russia – main battle tanks, long-range artillery, anti-aircraft guns. If German weapons can hit targets on Russian soil, the red line has been crossed for him. The Taurus can hit targets 500 kilometers away with the highest precision, including the Kremlin in Moscow from the Ukraine.

That’s why Scholz doesn’t want to leave target control to the Ukrainian soldiers, which would be possible after appropriate training in Germany. But Scholz doesn’t want to use German soldiers for this either – neither in Germany nor in Ukraine. Because from his point of view that would be a war effort. “I will not support any decision that results in German soldiers somehow becoming involved in a military operation in connection with Russia’s terrible war against Ukraine,” Scholz made clear again on Friday.

Double strategy from the start

However, the Chancellor’s statement does not mean a change of course. From the beginning of the Russian invasion, he has, on the one hand, relied on resolute support for Ukraine with weapons, but on the other hand, he has also shown the limits. Germany has now provided or committed to providing Ukraine with armaments worth 28 billion euros, making it Ukraine’s second largest arms supplier. Most recently, Scholz was particularly noticeable because he urged the allies – especially the economically strong partners such as France, Italy and Spain – to be more committed.

Now, however, he is hitting the brakes in a not entirely unimportant place. Unlike a year ago with the Leopard main battle tanks, he did not decide to deliver after much hesitation, but instead said no.

Angry British: “Slap in the face of the allies”

Not only does this cause irritation among the alliance partners, but also a statement that some interpret as an indiscretion. “What the British and French are doing in terms of targeting and accompanying targeting cannot be done in Germany,” said the Chancellor. He left it open what exactly he meant by that. However, the sentence is understood by some as an indication that the French and British would support the control of their Storm Shadow and Scalp cruise missiles, which were delivered to Ukraine, with their own forces.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak immediately denied this: “Ukraine’s use of the Storm Shadow long-range missile system and the target selection process are the responsibility of the Ukrainian armed forces.” Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, former head of the defense committee in the British Parliament, even spoke of a “blatant misuse of intelligence information deliberately aimed at distracting from Germany’s reluctance to equip Ukraine with its own long-range missile system,” he told the newspaper. Telegraph”. And the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns, wrote on the news portal X: “Scholz’s statements are wrong, irresponsible and a slap in the face to the allies.”

Scholz and Macron with different directions

The French allies were not that clear. But President Emmanuel Macron made it pretty clear what he thought about it just a few hours after the Chancellor said no to Taurus on Monday. Many who said “never, never” today are the same ones who said two years ago “never, never tanks, never, never planes, never, never longer-range missiles,” he said after a meeting of 20 heads of state and government in Paris to support Ukraine, which Scholz took part in. And he followed up: Two years ago many people would have said: “We will send sleeping bags and helmets.” A reminder that shortly before the war the federal government boasted of delivering 5,000 helmets to Ukraine.

Above all, Macron did not rule out sending ground troops to Ukraine. This in turn encouraged Scholz to respond in a video message in which he made a promise for the future. “As German Chancellor, I will not send any soldiers from our Bundeswehr to Ukraine. That applies. Our soldiers can rely on that. And you can rely on that.”

Memories of Schröder’s no to the Iraq War

This is reminiscent of a sentence that the Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said in September 2002 about the Iraq War: “Under my leadership, Germany will not take part in an intervention in Iraq.” Despite all of Schröder’s aberrations in Russia policy, the SPD is still proud of Schröder’s rejection of German participation in an invasion of Iraq. Schröder had the vast majority of Germans behind him. With Scholz, this should at least apply to the cancellation of the ground troops. But even when he rejected the delivery of the Taurus cruise missiles for the first time in October, he had the majority behind him. In a YouGov survey at the time, 55 percent supported the Chancellor’s no, only 26 percent thought the decision was wrong.

Some believe that Scholz has set the tone for the coming election campaigns with his new intonation. In any case, he gets a lot of applause from his own party. However, the domestic political discussion is likely to continue. The Union wants to talk to the Chancellery – ideally with the Chancellor himself – about Taurus at the next meeting of the Defense Committee on March 13th. There is an “urgent need for parliamentary information and advice”. And the coalition partners of the FDP and the Greens are unlikely to accept the Chancellor’s no to Taurus.


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