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German caution on arms to Ukraine rooted in history and energy

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German caution on arms to Ukraine rooted in history and energy

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BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s refusal to join other NATO members in supplying arms to Ukraine has annoyed some allies and raised questions about Berlin’s determination to stand up to Russia. .

The issue came to the fore over the weekend following a report that Berlin had gone so far as to prevent Estonia from supplying old German howitzers to Kiev to help defend against troops Russians massed near the Ukrainian border.

Germany’s position on arms deliveries “does not correspond to the level of our relations and the current security situation”, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz denied a decision had been made on howitzers and insisted his country stood by its NATO and European Union allies. to oppose any Russian incursion into Ukraine.

“If this situation happened, we would act together,” he told reporters. “There would be a high price.”

Yet while Germany would continue to provide aid to Ukraine, there would be an exception, he said: “We don’t provide any lethal weapons.”

This position, criticized in Kyiv and – less loudly – ​​in Washington and London, has caused consternation among some in Germany who fear that their country is not considered a reliable partner.

“How many people in Berlin actually know how much our seemingly confused Ukraine policy is harming not just (Germany) but the whole EU?” asked Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the United States and now head of the annual Munich security conference.

Experts say Germany’s position is partly rooted in its inglorious history of aggression during the 20th century.

“There is the clear legacy of Germany’s own militarization in Europe during both world wars that led many German leaders to view any military response as the last resort,” said Rachel Ellehuus, deputy program director. Europe, Russia and Eurasia in Washington- based at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

This attitude could backfire, she said. “The current government does not seem to understand that sending defensive weapons to Ukraine might actually deter further Russian aggression.”

And while Germany has highlighted its restrictive stance on arms exports to conflict zones in the past, analysts say the rule has not been applied consistently.

“There have always been borderline cases here, like the Kosovo war or supporting the Kurds against IS in Syria,” said Sabine Fischer, a Russian expert at the German Institute for International Affairs and Security.

The German weapons debate was unfolding days after the German navy chief resigned following criticism at home and abroad for his comments on Ukraine and Russia. Speaking at a Friday event in India, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach said it was important to have Russia on the same side against China and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved the ” respect”.

With Scholz’s Social Democrats rooted in the legacy of Cold War rapprochement continued by his predecessor Willy Brandt, and the Greens rooted in a tradition of pacifism, two of Germany’s three ruling parties would balk at the idea of ​​providing arms to a non-NATO country. in a conflict with Russia. But letting Estonia hand over the old Soviet-designed 122mm D-30 howitzers to Ukraine might be an acceptable compromise.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has made it clear that apart from fears of exporting arms to Ukraine, Berlin takes a dim view of Russia’s behavior.

“In recent weeks, more than 100,000 Russian troops with tanks and guns have gathered near Ukraine for no understandable reason. And it’s hard not to see that as a threat,” she said during from a recent visit to Moscow.

Speaking alongside her Russian counterpart – whom she called a “dear colleague” – Baerbock acknowledged the “suffering and destruction that we Germans inflicted on the people of the Soviet Union” during the Nazi era. , but warned that Germany was willing to consider tough measures. if Russia acts against Ukraine.

This includes questioning the future of the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline to deliver much-needed natural gas from Russia to Germany.

Such action against its largest energy supplier would also come at a high price for Germany.

With plans to shut down its last three nuclear power plants this year and phase out the use of coal by 2030, Germany’s dependence on gas will increase in the near term until enough renewable energy is brought in. line, said Georg Zachmann, senior researcher at the Bruegel economic think tank in Brussels.

Still, German officials believe being a big customer of Russian gas can give it leverage, as Moscow won’t want to hurt its reputation as a reliable gas supplier, painstakingly built up over decades.

Speaking at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, Baerbock said the German government’s priority was to de-escalate the situation over Ukraine, curb calls from allies for military support in Kiev and swift new sanctions against Moscow.

“Berlin will have to deal with the criticism that is now coming from Ukraine, other European countries and Washington,” Fischer said. “At the same time, Germany remains an important player in the negotiations surrounding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and, I predict, will continue to support sanctions and other measures in the future.”

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Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

German caution on arms to Ukraine rooted in history and energy

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