Germany is the first collateral victim of the Ukrainian crisis, even before a single shot has been fired. The Russian interests behind the massive deployment of forces on the border with Ukraine have in fact forced the new coalition in power in Berlin to face its first international crisis and also its own contradictions.
Initially discreet, these tensions emerged in the open with the startling statements of the head of the German navy, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach. On a visit to India, the official called the idea that Russia could invade Ukraine “idiotic”. According to Schönbach, Putin only wants to obtain the “respect” of Westerners, a respect that in his opinion “deserves”. The Deputy Admiral added that Crimea, annexed by Putin in 2014, does not belong to Ukraine, contradicting his country’s political stance.
These statements sparked a storm and Schönbach resigned on January 22, anticipating his dismissal. But the damage was now done: Schönbach exposed the embarrassing contradictions of the German position.
An unprecedented crisis
Clearly, Germany finds itself in a peculiar situation with respect to Russia and Ukraine, for historical, economic and strategic reasons. This makes it difficult to define a clear and coherent policy with respect to an unprecedented crisis.
Like all Western countries, Germany is wondering about the response to oppose Putin, who demands the neutralization of what he considers to be a Russian “sphere of influence”. The reactions to this claim have been heterogeneous. Some countries have started delivering arms to Ukraine, starting with the United Kingdom and Estonia, which asked the United States and Germany for permission to resell arms purchased in the two countries to Ukraine. Washington agreed, Berlin did not.
German foreign minister, environmentalist Annalena Baerbock, said that for historical reasons Berlin cannot accept the possibility of German weapons being used against Russian citizens. In doing so, Baerbock provoked the piqued response of his Ukrainian counterpart, according to which the argument of the story was also valid for the millions of Ukrainian victims of Nazism.
In all this we must not forget the story of the pipeline, at the heart of the problem. Berlin has at its disposal a great instrument of pressure on the Kremlin: the Nord stream 2 pipeline which connects Russia to Germany. Construction of the plant has been completed, but its inauguration has been suspended.
Berlin never wanted to turn the pipeline into a diplomatic weapon, but the fact remains that Nord stream 2 will allow Moscow to bypass Ukraine to export its gas and will increase the dependence of Germany and part of Europe on Russia.
Last week, the Social Democrat German defense minister ruled out the possibility of linking Nord stream 2 to the Ukrainian crisis, before being denied by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, his party colleague. Meanwhile Baerbock stressed that “any option is possible” in the event of a Russian attack.
The problem is the credibility of the diplomacy of the first European power in an ongoing crisis on the continent. The winners in this affair are Russia, which has destabilized its opponents, but also NATO, which appears to Eastern Europeans as the only true guarantor of security.
(Translation by Andrea Sparacino)