Thursday morning in the Bundestag was a low point for German foreign policy and also for parliamentary democracy. In an emotional speech, the Ukrainian president reported on the city of Mariupol, which has been bombed non-stop for five days, about the people who cannot escape the bombs and rockets. Volodymyr Zelenskyy begged Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz to help the Ukrainians.
Two minutes after the speech, the Bundestag went to work and the chancellor fell silent. It seemed as if Zelenskyi’s speech was just a task for the deputies of the traffic light coalition. German politics gave the world an embarrassing spectacle.
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But the real problem is much deeper: three weeks after the Russian invasion of the whole of Ukraine, the German government has not responded to the requests of the Ukrainian president. Impressed by the Russian attack, Scholz issued a government statement in late February announcing a U-turn in foreign and security policy: the federal government renounced its opposition to arms deliveries to Ukraine and agreed to the exclusion of several Russian banks from the Swift payment system and promised 100 billion euros for the Bundeswehr.
Does German politics act like a robot vacuum cleaner?
Scholz received much praise from the German public for his radical change. Since then, the world has looked at Germany differently, and there was even talk of “admiration”.
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However, Germany’s external view is much more sober: Better late than never, said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. British journalist Philip Oltermann compared German politics to a robot vacuum cleaner that only changes direction when it hits a wall. In fact, the coalition only changed its stance on arms supplies when Ukrainian cities came under attack and pressure from European partners became too great.
Unfortunately, German Ukraine policy is already heading towards the next wall. It seems as if the federal government is picking up where it left off before the chancellor’s government statement: he loudly explains what is absolutely impossible, but makes no suggestions as to how Ukraine could be helped.
Scholz categorically refused to stop imports of oil and gas from Russia. Economy Minister Robert Habeck also argued that Germany could not cope with such a step. The country should become independent from Russian coal by the middle of the year and from oil by the end of the year. These measures help free Germany from its fatal dependence on Moscow. On the other hand, they are not helping Ukraine and it is too late for the people of Mariupol, Kharkiv and Kyiv.
It is better to talk about the price of fuel.
With the proceeds from the sale of oil and gas, Russian President Putin is able to keep his regime and army afloat and pay for mercenaries from Syria. If the federal government deems an outright import ban too risky, it should at least stop Russian oil imports immediately or shut down the existing Nord Stream pipeline. But instead of taking concrete steps that could help Ukraine, the Berlin politician prefers to discuss the price of gas. As Russia wages a war of aggression in Europe, Germany is once again preoccupied with itself.
The federal government is not yet planning further deliveries of German weapons, which are urgently needed in kyiv. When it comes to Russia’s outright exclusion from Swift or Ukraine’s EU candidate status, Germany is once again perceived as a brakeman within the European Union. Scholz and his government are unable to find an answer to the challenge posed by Putin’s Russia. For a big European country like Germany, that is shameful.