Germany reveals military and economic strategy

Chancellor Olaf Scholz explained his Ukraine policy, views on Russia, and why he’s rearming the Bundeswehr

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz believes in the transatlantic mission of universal democracy, rebuilding the German military to make the European Union stronger, and arming Ukraine while carefully skirting the line of open war with Russia, according to an interview published on Friday.

Germany is sending weapons, ammunition and other aid to Kiev to fuel Ukraine’s war against Russia, but the situation requires “a cool head and well-considered decisions, because our country bears responsibility for peace and security throughout Europe,” Scholz told the German weekly Der Spiegel.

“I don’t think it’s justified for Germany and NATO to become warring parties in Ukraine,” he added.

Ukraine has asked NATO countries for everything from artillery, tanks, and armored vehicles to ammunition. Earlier this week, Scholz explained that Germany can’t send any more weapons because the Bundeswehr’s own stores were running low, but is willing to fund Kiev’s arms purchases from the German military industry. 

He told Der Spiegel that Germany has an obligation to NATO to “withstand a conventional attack for twelve days with our ammunition and our equipment,” so it can’t send any more of it to Ukraine.

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On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin had actually sent more weapons than publicly disclosed, while rumors circulated that Germany could sell retired Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine. A day later, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said that Berlin would send modern armored vehicles to Slovenia instead, while Ljubljana would ship its Cold War-era models to Kiev.

Scholz insisted to Der Spiegel that this tightrope act was about “political responsibility,” not fear.

“Introducing a no-fly zone, as was demanded, would have turned NATO into a party to the war,” he said. “I said very early on that we must do everything possible to avoid a direct military confrontation between NATO and a highly armed superpower like Russia, a nuclear power. I am doing everything to prevent an escalation leading to a third World War. There must be no nuclear war.”

There is no clear standard under which Germany could be perceived as a party in the war, so it is important for Berlin to coordinate its actions with NATO allies, Scholz explained, as “the consequences of a mistake would be dramatic.”

The chancellor also laid out his vision of how the conflict in Ukraine should end, while cautioning that Kiev should have the final word on that.

“There has to be a ceasefire, the Russian troops have to withdraw. There must be a peace agreement that will allow Ukraine to defend itself in the future. We will equip them in such a way that their safety is guaranteed. And we are available as a guarantee power. There will be no dictated peace of the kind that Putin had long dreamed of,” Scholz told Der Spiegel.

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Scholz described himself as a “trans-Atlanticist” who believes that “the desire to live as a democracy in a free society is universal.” His belief that Russia has “long been on the road to autocracy” has been informed by the work of Masha Gessen, a Russian-born LGBTQ activist. Scholz blamed the current situation in Europe on “Putin’s imperialism” and argued that the Russian president “is the aggressor, nobody else.”

After declaring a “turning point” in German policy in a February speech, Scholz said he was doing three things: investing 100 billion euros to better equip the Bundeswehr, accelerating Germany’s transition to “green” energy, and building a “strong, sovereign European Union” which means bringing in the “Western Balkans” – referring to the the former Yugoslavia.

Germans are ready for a more powerful army because “they know that a better equipped Bundeswehr does not mean a change to a more aggressive German policy,” Scholz told Der Spiegel, adding that his country has “repositioned itself as a democracy after all the catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century, in such a way that nobody fears a militarily stronger Germany.”