India will be Germany’s special guest at the important G7 summit it is hosting at Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps from 26-28 June.
London: India and Germany’s diplomatic relations date back more than seven decades. In fact, India was one of the first countries in 1951 to grant the Federal Republic of Germany diplomatic recognition following the Second World War. Today, the two countries are linked by a strategic partnership, a key pillar of which is their shared interest in strengthening multilateral cooperation and promoting stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region. Germany is India’s most important trading partner and in 2020, over 1,700 German companies provided more than 400,000 jobs in India. Last month, Germany agreed to ten billion euros in funding for joint projects with India, particularly those covering clean energy to tackle climate change. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is casting shadows on the relationship between India and Germany, with the two leaders far apart on their positions to the war.
Ukraine is also creating problems within Germany itself. The war has thrust Germany’s establishment into the throes of a tortured process of introspection, self-doubt and recrimination. In many ways, this is not surprising as for the past 70 years Germany has become steeped in a culture of pacifism, driven by guilt of the Nazi atrocities during the Second World War. Germany’s armed forces are currently small and woefully ill-equipped and many senior politicians have even been fighting for decades in favour of total disarmament. At last, Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has convinced Germans to take security seriously and in March its coalition cabinet agreed to a boost in the country’s defence spending from around 1.5% of GDP, to 2%, the level NATO members are supposed to meet but Germany has consistently missed. Just as significant was the decision two days after the start of the war to allow the export of German weapons to Ukraine, a move previously forbidden.
But Chancellor Schulz and his coalition partners have been dithering, with some commentators concluding that his rhetorical gymnastics indicate that he might even fear a Ukrainian victory. Reports last week in Germany’s largest and most popular tabloid, Bild, claimed that Scholz has steadfastly refused to say that he wants Ukraine to “win” the war, uttering only that it should “survive” and that Russia must not “win”. This has led many to believe that Scholz is playing a double game, as he and his party to this day remain heavily invested in the bilateral relationship with Russia, arguably the most important strategic relationship in post-war Europe. Some even accuse Scholz of working behind the scenes to frustrate economic sanctions and weapons deliveries. Others claim that it was Germany’s self-serving Russia policy and its self-inflicted and naïve energy dependence, eagerly supported across Germany’s political spectrum, which even emboldened the Kremlin and enabled Putin’s war in the first place.
Many of these charges may seem unfair on Scholz, as he tries to balance conflicting interests within his coalition. Numerous members of his own Social Democratic Party do not support the huge rearmament that is central to the new foreign and security policy outlined in his Zeitenwende (“historic turning point”), made three days after the Russian invasion began. As a result, the SDP is slowing down the implementation of his new policies and it is the fear of alienating his members even further that Scholz has been so reluctant to say clearly that Germany is now supplying light and heavy weapons to Ukraine because it wants Ukraine to win the war. But as Russia steps up its offensive in Donbas, Ukraine is begging for heavy weapons.
As a belated compromise, Berlin is acting to backfill weaponry provided to Kyiv by other NATO allies. The idea is, for example, that the Czech Republic will provide Ukraine with 20 of its Soviet era T-72 tanks and in return, Germany will give the Czechs 14 Leopard 2 tanks, which are newer and better. As Ukrainian soldiers are already familiar with the T-72s, they will not need to spend time training and can put them into battle immediately.
Fighting back against charges of vacillation, last week in a debate in the Bundestag, Chancellor Scholz gave a long list of weapons that Germany has already sent to Ukraine, including several thousand Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, thousands of anti-tank weapons, and more than 50 light armoured vehicles. The list went on and on. Although Scholz argues that Berlin is providing military support to Ukraine “more intensively than almost anyone else”, the hard fact is that Germany is ranked fifth in terms of overall military support. Berlin gives 0.1% of its economic output in support of Ukraine, by comparison with the three Baltic Countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which have much smaller economies, but give between 0.2% and 0.9%. Germany’s contribution looks especially meagre, given that it is the EU’s biggest economy and is the world’s fifth biggest arms exporter.
The German defence ministry has said that it will deliver 15 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine by the end of July and a further 15 by the end of August. The problem is that the Germans have very little ammunition for the tanks, which were phased out more than a decade ago. It’s somewhat ironical that Ukraine didn’t actually ask for Gepards, which are of limited use in the struggle to push Russia out of the country. What it really wants to buy from Germany are Mardar infantry fighting vehicles, tanks used to shuffle troops to the battlefields. As long ago as 14 April, the manufacturer offered to sell Ukraine up to 100 refurbished Mardars, but as yet, Berlin has not agreed to green-light the sale.
Conventional wisdom in Berlin holds that Chancellor Scholz doesn’t want to “provoke” President Putin, with whom he holds regular telephone conversations. What seems lost on most Germans, however, is that they’re exposed to Putin’s wrath whether or not they send their old tanks to Ukraine, as Germany’s allies are already sending everything that they won’t.
The truth of the matter, however, is that Scholz is trying to shield Germans from Putin’s real nuclear option of switching off access to cheap natural gas that fuels its economic engine. Losing Russia’s gas, which is cheaper and easier to distribute than all other alternatives, would ravage the foundations of Germany’s industrial base. Natural gas accounts for a quarter of Germany’s energy mix, and of that, industry consumes the lion’s share. Chemical-makers alone account for more than 15% of gas consumption. Take the giant company BASF, for example, which consumes as much electricity at its main plant as all of Denmark and cannot continue without gas. And without the solvents, glues and plastics that BASF produces, much of the rest of German industry, from pharmaceuticals to cars, would be thrown into disarray.
The European Union and NATO have been pressurising Scholz to take a more active stance by moving faster to cut Germany’s dependence on Russian gas and doing more to provide Ukraine with heavy weaponry. Instead he has been struggling to develop a coherent strategy, an outcome that has been increasingly damaging for Germany’s reputation among its partners. It is an open question whether he will be able to assert his authority and retain Germany’s ability to influence the accelerating geopolitical shifts. For 30 years, German leaders hoped that Russian Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin could be drawn deeper into a shared European political order by emphasising diplomatic dialogue and deepening business ties. That strategy led to today’s entrenched German dependence on Russian energy exports and it is embarrassing for Berlin to come to terms with the reality that its leaders have been played for fools by Vladimir Putin.
India will be Germany’s special guest at the important G7 summit it is hosting at Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps from 26-28 June. The embattled Chancellor Scholz sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a valued partner in efforts to isolate Russia, and wants European defence companies to offer New Delhi an alternative to Russian weapons deliveries as a way to reduce its reliance on Moscow. While Ukraine will certainly be a talking point between the two leaders, all that has come out of New Delhi so far is that Modi will “exchange perspectives” on the war. Scholz will be hoping for far more than that to keep the relationship close.
John Dobson is a former British diplomat, who also worked in UK Prime Minister John Major’s office between 1995 and 1998. He is currently Visiting Fellow at the University of Plymouth.