Rethinking Europe

The Evasive Mr. Scholz

On Ukraine and Russia, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz is not acting thoughtfully and with a cool head. Rather, he is damaging Germany’s reputation – and his own party.

Takeaways


  • Mr. Scholz still portrays Putin as a politician whom one should not “provoke.” But that totally overlooks the fact that nobody provoked the Russian war criminal to invade Ukraine.
  • If Putin succeeds with cutting off Ukraine’s access to the sea, the Russian President will be able to control a significant portion of the world's grain and fertilizer supplies.
  • By trying first to save the Nordstream 2 pipeline, then to soften European sanctions, then to prevent arms deliveries and now to restrict them, Scholz is gambling away Germany’s credibility.
  • Chancellor Scholz has chosen the policy toward Putin the essence of social democratic policy. Viewed in a historical context, it is the other way around: If something characterizes the SPD, then it is its courageous stand against fascism and Stalinism.

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in office since early December 2021, has come up with the ultimate response to the – by now regularly made – double accusation of hesitating and finagling on helping Ukraine when decisiveness is very much what is needed.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, he argued: “I am doing everything to prevent an escalation that would lead to a Third World War. There must be no nuclear war.” Who would want to contradict him there?

One excuse after another

But is this really a credible maxim? Or once again an attempt to buy time? To further justify his warning against a dramatic escalation in the path of the war, Mr. Scholz says it is unclear “at what point we will be perceived as a war party.”

Heavy weapons from Germany, he suggests, could give Putin the impression that Germany has become a party to the war. And then he would have a pretext to attack Germany.

Not provoking Mr. Putin?

Mr. Scholz’s train of thought is politically dangerous. Not only does Putin attack simply when he sees a prey and feels superior. He does this without being challenged.

In addition, it is self-evident that Vladimir Putin will use whatever suits his tactics as a pretext – including the claim to feel “provoked”.

Therefore, Scholz’s insistence that Putin should not be “provoked” is ultimately an unattainable goal.

Moreover, international law is perfectly clear. Even Mr. Scholz’s own Federal Minister of Justice has stated it several times: The delivery even of heavy weapons does not make Germany a party to the war. In wars of aggression perpetrated against a country, other nations can come to its aid by delivering weapons.

Fears of nuclear war

The German Chancellor certainly strikes a nerve with many people when he warns of the dangers of nuclear war. But even here, his claim that Western arms deliveries could indirectly be the trigger for it stands on very thin legs.

By Scholz’s logic, if Germany itself supplies heavy weapons, that could lead to a dangerous escalation, he says. But if Slovenia provides Ukraine with tanks, then this danger suddenly becomes a harmless “ring exchange.” In other words, let our partners go ahead, nothing will happen. If we did, that would be different.

Putin’s war goals

Scholz’s policy is dangerous precisely because it is not well-thought out. It would be rational to take note of the facts: Putin doesn’t just want to annex the Donbass, he wants all of southern Ukraine to jump from there to Moldova.

If he succeeds, Putin will have cut off Ukraine from the sea and will be able to control a significant portion of the world’s grain and fertilizer supplies.

Timidity only feeds Putin’s appetite for more

That would be a victory that would feed his appetite for further aggression, perhaps against NATO countries. This could, in fact, become the start of World War III.

This is exactly what Poles, Balts and Americans have been warning about for months. That is why they are doing everything to stop the Russian army now, when there may still be time.

That is why it is also in Germany’s interest to do everything to make Ukraine as militarily strong as possible immediately.

Scholz a prisoner of his own ideological blinders

Evidently, Mr. Scholz doesn’t want to understand. He still portrays Putin as a politician whom one should not “provoke”.

But that totally overlooks the fact that nobody provoked the war criminal to invade Ukraine.

Western weakness makes Putin ever blood-thirstier

Putin was – and is – tempted by a West he perceives as weak or simply not cunning enough.

For example, in 2000 in Chechnya, Putin sold his brutal air war there to the West as a fight against terror. In 2014/15, Germany even rewarded Putin’s annexation of Crimea with the Nordstream 2 project.

Then in Syria, where Assad was able to use poison gas with impunity, Putin wiped out Syrian cities. Now, he is repeating the same approach in Mariupol and Kharkiv.

Afghanistan in 2021, when the Western states could not withdraw fast enough, further encouraged Putin. He took that experience as yet another sign of weakness on the part of the West.

In other words, Western passivity and/or shortsightedness led him to his war of aggression against Ukraine. His claim to feel “provoked” by NATO wasn’t even window-dressing. It was a lie.

Germany’s Melnyk problem

Some people believe Germany is being unfairly attacked by the overly brash Ukrainian Ambassador Melnyk. They overlook the fact that criticism of Germany is growing in other countries as well.

French philosopher and politician Raphaël Glucksmann writes: “Chancellor Scholz has just reiterated it: We cannot count on Berlin to defend European principles and strategic interests.”

U.S. historian Timothy Snyder accuses us Germans of giving Ukraine lessons in fascism, but “When fascism actually came, Germans financed it (through gas and oil imports from Russia), and Ukrainians died fighting it.” And the Spanish writer Javier Cercas said in an interview Sunday that what Germany is doing is “worse than hypocrisy.”

Germany’s naked self-interest

By trying first to save the Nordstream 2 pipeline, then to soften European sanctions, then to prevent arms deliveries and now to restrict them, Scholz is gambling away Germany’s credibility – a political asset that the Federal Republic has built up over decades.

Even people who are not members of the SPD must be disturbed by the way the chancellor is twisting the history of his party. In the Spiegel interview, he complains that the SPD is being unfairly attacked for its policy on Russia in recent years.

It’s all about the pride of the SPD?

These attacks, Scholz says, are systematic and aimed at discrediting the SPD. In doing so, he virtually makes the policy toward Putin the essence of social democratic policy.

Viewed in a historical context, it is the other way around: If something characterizes the SPD, then it is its stand against fascism and Stalinism. A straight line runs from resistance to Nazism in Germany to resistance to the Stalinists in Eastern Europe.

The extension of this line should have logically led to clear-headed resistance against Putin with his tell-tale Russo-fascist leanings and practices. But this course was unfortunately not chosen Messrs. Schröder, Gabriel, Platzeck and others. By caving in to Putin via wanting at all costs not to “provoke” him, Scholz is gutting the SPD.

Conclusion

In the interest of both Germany and his own party, it is high time for Mr. Scholz that the German government under his leadership finally support Ukraine with all its might.

The empathy shown by the FDP, the Greens and many others in Germany is something one would finally also like to see coming from the SPD leadership.

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About Thomas Hanke

Thomas Hanke is a publicist and author of the just published book "Can We Trust France? German Clichés and French Reality".

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