It’s a strong signal. Germany, the world’s fourth power, has authorized the delivery of “Guepard” type tanks to Ukraine. A real turning point in the cautious – even cautious – foreign policy adopted hitherto by Chancellor Olaf Scholz. This delivery of heavy weapons was announced on Tuesday, when some forty countries gathered at the base of Ramstein (west of German territory), at the invitation of the United States, to discuss the strengthening of the defense of Ukraine. But why was Germany so late in sending heavy artillery? And, above all, why did Olaf Scholz turn around? Elements of answers with Paul Maurice, researcher in the study committee for Franco-German relations at the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri).
Why did Olaf Scholz take so long to involve Germany in the war in Ukraine?
“It is important to specify that Germany delivered arms to Ukraine from the first days of the conflict”, inducts Paul Maurice. Indeed, as early as February 27, the German government announced the creation of a special fund of 100 billion euros to bring the Bundeswehr (national army of the Federal Republic of Germany) up to standard. An upgrade also allowed Germany to comply with the NATO rule that requires 2% of GDP to be spent on defence. However, the weapons delivered since that day to Ukraine were not heavy weapons and not the best either, according to our Ifri researcher: “Until now Germany has emptied its arms stocks a little , in particular those of the former GDR”.
The official reason? “For political but above all historical reasons, Germany has the principle of not sending lethal equipment to conflict zones where its weapons would contribute to a form of instability, explains Paul Maurice. Which is a paradox if you look closely, because Germany is one of the largest arms exporters in the world. »
Has the Social Democratic Chancellor finally given in to international pressure?
With the stalemate in the conflict, the allies and especially the United States very quickly expected more from Germany. “By more, of course, is meant the delivery of heavier and more offensive weapons in order to ensure a defeat or at least a less clear victory for Russia”, analyzes Paul Maurice. In particular, the Americans have supplied nearly five billion dollars (4.7 billion euros) in military equipment to Ukraine since the start of the conflict, so expectations on the fourth largest arms producer in the world were becoming pressing. .
But beyond the international scene, it is in the heart of his own country that Scholz’s policy has been debated. “Even within its majority, voices were in favor of the delivery of offensive equipment”, reminds the expert to 20 minutes. Even more surprisingly, the German Green Party has also positioned itself in this direction: “Which is particularly surprising for a party with a pacifist tradition. »
Is the policy of the German head of state too favorable to Russia?
The question of the connections of the Social Democrats (SPD), of which the Chancellor is a member, with the Russian power quickly made its appearance in Germany, as in all Western countries. “Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the German SPD has been strongly criticized for its ambivalent attitude towards the Kremlin”, explains Paul Maurice. In the most media cases, we obviously find that of the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder. “The latter, who is still a member of the supervisory board of Gazprom, is strongly decried in the German press”, explains our expert. More recently, the German Federal President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, for his part was banned from visiting Ukraine, deemed too close to President Vladimir Putin. Finally, according to the researcher at Ifri, “Zigmar Gabriel, chancellor under Angela Merkel, outright published a column accusing the Ukrainians of mistreating the Germans”.
Acquaintances that Olaf Scholz finally swept away from an interview. “There are falsified and slanderous presentations of the European and Russian policy of the SPD, that annoys me,” said the Chancellor in a interview given to Spiegel on April 22. According to Paul Maurice, if the various reasons cited above partly explain Germany’s reluctance in its commitment to Ukraine, there is yet another explanation: “Olaf Scholz is quite simply afraid of being considered belligerent and to be the first, with the provision of its state-of-the-art military equipment, to actually envisage a Third World War. »