Russia-Ukraine War Briefing

Pressure Mounts on Germany

Poland vows to send tanks to Ukraine on its own, if necessary

ImageA Leopard 2 battle tank outside a factory in Munich last year.
Credit...Felix Schmitt for The New York Times

Western allies are still jousting over whether to provide tanks to Ukraine, with Poland vowing today to build a coalition of nations to send German-made Leopards to Kyiv — whether Germany agrees to or not.

“We’ll ask for permission, but it’s a secondary issue,” the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, told reporters, according to the Polish news agency PAP.

The militaries of many European countries operate thousands of Leopards. Kyiv sees obtaining them as crucial to its war effort ahead of fighting that is expected to intensify this spring, but Germany has held off giving its legally required approval to send the tanks. The standoff has highlighted growing frustration within the ranks of Western allies.

“Germany has paid a heavy reputational price for repeatedly appearing reluctant to pitch in on a war raging only one country away,” The Economist reported, pointing to the German government’s pattern of refusing to send weapons, “only to eventually cave in.”

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators visiting Kyiv also expressed their impatience.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he was exasperated by the indecision around “who is going to send tanks and when they are going to send them,” Reuters reported. “To the Germans: Send tanks to Ukraine, because they need the tanks,” he said. “It is in your interest that Putin loses in Ukraine.”

As I reported on Friday, Germany’s reluctance to provide tanks — and in general to act aggressively in offering aid to Ukraine — is rooted in the country’s political culture following World War II.

My colleagues Steven Erlanger, chief diplomatic correspondent in Europe, and Erika Solomon, a correspondent in Berlin, dug further into those issues for an insightful analysis over the weekend.

Ever since the defeat of Nazism, Steven and Erika write, Germany has self-consciously devoted itself to promoting peace.

Specifically, Germany built its postwar economy on ties with Central and Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and China, believing that trade can moderate authoritarian governments.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine challenged that view. It has been as much a psychological shock to Germany as a political one. And despite Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s declaration early last year of a “Zeitenwende,” or historical turning point, his government has struggled to follow through.

“Germans want to be seen as a partner, not an aggressor, and they have a particular sensitivity to delivering arms in regions where German arms were historically used to kill millions of people,” said Steven Sokol, the president of the American Council on Germany, citing Russia, Poland and Ukraine. “People do not want German weapons on the front lines being used to kill people in those regions.”

But Germans risk misinterpreting the lessons of their history, said Timothy Garton Ash, a historian of Germany and Europe at St. Antony’s College at Oxford. “The German position is profoundly confused, with the old thinking dead and the new not yet born,” he said.

Much of Scholz’s Social Democratic Party is driven by “the conviction that peace cannot be achieved by military means,” as the chancellor himself said in a speech in the late 1980s, Garton Ash said. “So it’s very difficult for him to think his way into his own Zeitenwende and believe that in certain circumstances, war can be the lesser evil and the shortest path to a lasting peace in Ukraine.”


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Thanks for reading. Carole will be back Wednesday. — Adam

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