Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has warned Germany against having Leopard main battle tanks delivered to Ukraine. But what would be the result? Would Putin declare Germany an enemy and target him himself? Two absolute Russia experts assess the dangers of an escalation for FOCUS online.
Olaf Scholz has received a lot of criticism for his reluctance to deliver state-of-the-art Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. Internationally, but also by the coalition partners.
But because the chancellor rarely says so publicly, one can only speculate as to what makes him hesitate. Possibly the difficult question to answer: How will Putin react? Does he even declare Germany an enemy when the Bundeswehr and Rheinmetall send Leos to Ukraine?
“If you look at the delivery of German battle tanks against the background of Ukraine’s military requirements, Chancellor Scholz’s slow and hesitant behavior is certainly justified in the criticism,” explains Russia expert Gerhard Mangott, Professor of International Relations at the University of Innsbruck, to FOCUS on-line. The German leadership demanded by many is completely absent in this area.
According to Mangott, however, what is not discussed enough is whether it is only hesitation and not also prudence that drives Olaf Scholz. “He probably fears that the war will escalate when the Leopard 2 is delivered,” stresses Mangott and warns: “The war could escalate horizontally if the Ukrainian offensives using these weapons are successful and Russia is threatened with defeat. That could draw additional countries into the war.”
“The war could ultimately escalate vertically,” the Russia expert points out. “That means that Russia could also resort to tactical nuclear weapons in extreme need.” It is understandable that Scholz is concerned about this.
However, Mangott completely rules out a military attack on Germany itself, as he emphasizes. “However, it is to be expected that Russia will expand its hybrid warfare against Germany and other supplier states.” That ranges from cyber attacks to sabotage actions on German soil.
Anyone who calls for battle tanks could also ask for combat aircraft in the next step. How realistic is such a scenario?
Although Mangott assumes that the OK will soon come from Berlin for the export of Leopard 2 battle tanks to the Ukraine and that Germany will also supply battle tanks itself, the expert rules out the delivery of combat aircraft in the foreseeable future. “If this happened, Chancellor Scholz’s fears of escalation would be even more justified,” Gerhard Mangott clarifies.
Stefan Meister, head of the Center for Order and Governance in Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), can understand the criticism of Scholz for his hesitation. Because: “As the most important economic power in Europe, Germany is a kind of leading power and what Germany does or does not do influences other member states.” Therefore, according to him, this hesitation and non-communication is negative for cohesion in Europe, which leads to a weakening of the EU .
Meister also believes that it is impossible for Russia to target Germany when supplying battle tanks. “Russia will not attack any NATO country,” he is convinced. But: “In the sense of disinformation, Germany is already one of the most important target countries, whether with or without tank deliveries.” That would increase in the case of deliveries. Just like the rhetoric towards Germany and hybrid attacks. “Moscow cannot do much more,” emphasizes Meister.
As for fighter jets, Meister thinks that Germany should start thinking about that now. Because that is the next step, the next discussion, for which a positioning is needed.
“We are in a spiral of escalation, but it is Russia that has attacked another country, showing no compromises,” clarifies Meister. Those in power in Moscow only understand the language of harshness. You will fight while you can.
But what if the next Russian offensive does not have the success Moscow had hoped for and weapons are becoming scarce? “I’m assuming that the nuclear weapons discussion will then come up again,” explains Meister. But: “Because of the pressure on China, Moscow will think twice about actually using tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. I’m more likely to assume chemical weapons or a dirty bomb.”