Germany wants to be a military “leading power”, but is hiding behind its allied partners in the Ukraine war. Political scientist Andreas Heinemann-Grüder sharply criticizes the government’s hesitation and lack of strategy.
Germany is a “leading power”, also “in the military”. The keynote speech by Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) on the national security strategy earlier this week made people sit up and take notice, especially against the background of the Ukraine war.
After Lambrecht’s clear words, the question arises: Can a country that claims a military leadership role in Europe and the world continue to hide behind its allied partners?
Or shouldn’t it, as the “leading power”, quickly deliver German armored personnel carriers and main battle tanks to the Ukraine in order to effectively support the Ukrainians’ fight against the Russian attackers?
Lambrecht and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) have already answered this question. They continue to refuse to help Kyiv with Marder or Leopard tanks on the grounds that there will be “no German unilateralism”.
Nor are they impressed by the recent military successes of the Ukrainians, which would have been impossible without Western weapons. The FDP, Greens and CDU bite the SPD with their demand for more arms deliveries.
Political scientist Andreas Heinemann-Grüder from the International Center for Conflict Studies in Bonn sharply criticizes the German government’s hesitant attitude and accuses Lambrecht of “brash rhetoric”.
“Germany must take the lead, through the rapid delivery of tanks, the training of Ukrainian soldiers, the establishment of protection zones, the prosecution of war crimes and the diplomatic reunification of southern states,” said the expert to FOCUS online.
“Germany’s future status will be decided by its conduct in this war,” believes Heinemann-Grüder. Because Germany will also be defended in Ukraine. “If Ukraine falls, the defense case becomes all the more likely. The Bundeswehr special fund is best invested in Ukraine today.”
Russia wants to make Ukraine an “eternal vassal” while Ukraine is fighting for its right to self-determination. “Putin expects that he will have more staying power in the war of attrition and that first the West and then Ukraine will give up,” said the expert. However, this scenario should not occur.
The professor accuses the federal government of serious omissions. “As before, Russia’s military superiority should not be disturbed by the delivery of tanks, fighter jets and missiles that could reach Russia,” he says.
And further: “Although the Ukrainian counter-offensive demonstrates how vulnerable Russia’s military is, Scholz and Lambrecht act according to the Saint Florian principle: “Holy Saint Florian, spare my house, set others on fire!”
He also notes: “If Germany had delivered heavy weapons to Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, since July 2021, when Putin denied Ukraine’s right to exist, and after the start of the war on February 24, 2022, Russia would have already been stopped.”
Andreas Heinemann-Grüder believes that without the help of the US and Britain, Ukraine “would no longer exist”. Regarding the German position, he said: “The fear of Russian escalation, the primacy of economic interests and the idea that a European peace order is only conceivable with Russia continue to contribute to the flexibility that Putin’s aggression made possible.”
Although German politicians are no longer harboring any illusions about Russia’s war of annihilation, it remains unclear how it should react.
When Volodymyr Zelenskyy – by then a popular actor and comedian – surprisingly won Ukraine’s presidential election in 2019, the world assumed he would be a weak leader and easily swayed by the Kremlin with the help of the oligarchs. But the opposite was the case: Selenskyj proved to be a man with backbone, courageous and inflexible. In the face of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he became a true statesman, commanding respect even from his enemies.
According to the political scientist, a strategy by the federal government is not discernible. “Germany does not want to be drawn into the war, does not want to be open to blackmail and wants to contain the global effects of the war. But what kind of post-war order, what kind of peace does the federal government want to work towards?” asks Heinemann-Grüder.
The answer to that is extremely important. “What scenario you work towards affects whether the war will end with or against Putin.”
The Bonn professor assumes two basic scenarios. In the first scenario, Ukraine loses. “Russia is escalating the war accordingly – with nuclear weapons, the release of radioactivity, mass displacement, the systematic destruction of infrastructure, a terror regime in the occupied territories, with the cutting off of gas supplies and hunger in Africa as a weapon.”
At the same time, Russia would “aggravate the world food crisis at will” and drive people whose existence is threatened by recession “with the help of its agents of influence onto the streets of western cities,” according to Heinemann-Grüder.
He is convinced that this will massively aggravate the world situation. Putin’s regime will constantly test whether there are red lines in the West that can be crossed.
“The Russian regime does not think in terms of interdependence, balancing of interests and maintaining a peaceful status quo, but follows a zero-sum approach and the Bolshevik motto: Every limit that is not clearly set offers an opportunity to cross it.”
The conflict researcher urgently warns: “Anyone who agrees to a deal with Putin at the expense of the self-determination rights of Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic States, Moldova or Georgia only increases the likelihood of an escalation of the war.”
In the second scenario outlined by Andreas Heinemann-Grüder, Ukraine wins. This is not unrealistic. “Great powers have often been defeated despite nuclear weapons and material superiority: Britain by the US colonies, France in Algeria, the US in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the US in Syria and Afghanistan.”
However, the prerequisites for this are further massive support from the West. “The strategic use of resources, high-precision long-range weapons, cutting off supplies, partisan warfare, cyber attacks and sanctions can also turn the tide in Ukraine’s favour.”
One thing is beyond question for the political scientist: “As long as Putin thinks he can negotiate a guarantee of neutrality for Ukraine from the West for peace, he will not impose any limits on himself. Since Putin’s war, Ukraine’s rejection of NATO membership can no longer be justified by Russia’s security interests, but only by the NATO member states’ refusal to guarantee Ukraine’s security.”
Heinemann-Grüder is convinced that the only chance of ending the fighting is the “complete debacle of Russian warfare”. Putin’s defeat is Europe’s and Russia’s only chance.
“Putin will be stopped where we stop him together with Ukraine. A peace agreement will no longer be possible with Putin, the regime he represents is structurally incapable of peace.”
The political scientist considers an end to the war to be conceivable. “But only if Putin has no other choice and international security guarantees for Ukraine are robust.”