Germany is forced to defend itself in Ukraine crisis


A Ukrainian soldier patrols outside Donetsk in Ukraine, February 5, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

While the world powers tried to stop an all-out war between Russia and Ukraine, Germany was accused of not only failing to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts but also actively failing to defend Ukraine against any attack.

U.S. and U.K. have sent military hardware to Ukraine in order to assist it in case of invasion. Russia denies planning such an attack, despite the fact that it has many tens to thousands of troops in this area.

Germany has, however, refused to send any help and has apparently blocked others from doing so. That has lead to accusations that it has not shown Ukraine — which is not a member of the EU or NATO but is geographically within Europe — enough solidarity.

CNBC heard Monday from Andrij Melnyk the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany that Germany needs to be “awake” to the dangers facing Ukraine.

He said that “the world is becoming more dangerous” and Germany, the largest European country and strongest economic power, could not allow itself to remain neutral.

Germany needs to wake up. Germany must stand by its allies. Germany also has to do more to ensure security in Europe. Germany is a special player in this moment of war in Europe.

The ambassador stated that Germany should be a part of the allies that send defensive weapons to Ukraine, and that Germany should “help stop this new war that Russia seems to be playing.”

Tensions have increased since Russia posted around 100,000 troops on its border to Ukraine and moved approximately 30,000 troops into Belarus for military exercise. Russia’s 2014 annexation from Ukraine of Crimea and its support for pro-Russian separatists living in eastern Ukraine have caused a decline in trust.

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz will likely to address concerns about Berlin’s position towards Ukraine during talks with Joe Biden, the president of the United States. This is his first visit to the U.S. since he became chancellor.

Scholz is facing increasing criticism for his apparent reluctance at weighing in so far. He is being pressured to take a stronger position against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Berlin offers to supply 5,000 helmets and a field medical facility to Kyiv in place of sending weapons. Some quarters in Ukraine were shocked and disillusioned by this offer.

According to Reuters Germany, it claimed that it was responding in good faith to a request for military equipment. Bild also reported that the German government received a request for military equipment from Ukraine, which included 100,000 combat helmets as well as tactical vests.

Reports also claim that Germany prevented Estonia from sending weapons into Ukraine. The defense minister of Ukraine has stated that Berlin stopped Ukraine from acquiring weapons via NATO.

Because Ukraine is not a member of NATO, the military alliance is not obliged to defend it, but given its location — separating Russia and the EU — any confrontation has the potential to destabilize the whole region.

Scholz spoke to RTL, a German broadcaster, to defend Germany’s defense spending record (a longstanding problem of the U.S. which has criticised Germany for not meeting NATO-agreed defense expenditure targets) and its response in the Ukraine situation.

“We are very concretist, by the way. This is also true for what we do in Europe for NATO defense. We are the nation with the greatest defense contribution in continental Europe and the European Union. This should not be overlooked. We have greatly increased the capabilities of the Bundeswehr in recent years. [Germany’s armed forces]. This was something I advocated even when I was finance minister. RTL was informed by Scholz.

Dr Christian Moelling, research director at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said Germany first has to “reassure our allies not on the economic side but on the political side, because the biggest thing is the political power of 30 nations behind NATO and also the power of the European Union.”

Moelling conceded that Germany had been “caught in the cold” by the crisis and said it was now up to Scholz to “deliver something” in Washington.

“I hope that he’s bringing a clear-cut commitment towards strengthening German forces in Lithuania in the Baltic region — and not just what is already in the books, because there’s a routine replacement of forces — but I think the current situation requires a reassuring signal which means more forces,” he said.

“Any day now”

Scholz’s visit Washington is occurring amid concerns about a Russian invasion in Ukraine.

Jake Sullivan, White House National Security Advisor, warned Sunday that Russia could launch military action against Ukraine, or it could be a few weeks from now or Russia could choose the diplomatic route instead.” He said this in an interview with Fox News Sunday.

Two U.S. officials claimed that Russia has about 70% of the combat force it needs to invade Ukraine. The number of battalion tactical groups in the border region has risen to 83 from 60 as of Friday and 14 more are in transit, according to Reuters.

Chancellor Scholz also stated that Germany will not supply Ukraine with lethal weapons. He said to German broadcaster ARD that the German government had been following a clear course of action for a while: “We never supply lethal guns to crisis regions, and are not supplying these to Ukraine.”

“My predecessor [Angela Merkel]was committed to this path and it has been, and will continue to be right,” he stated. He also stressed that opinion polls show that the majority of Germans agree with the government’s position.

He noted that “my duty is to do the best for the German people” and that “my point of view is of our citizens.”

Nord Stream 2

Germany was also criticised for continuing to support the Nord Stream 2 Project, a massive gas pipeline that will bring Russian natural gas supplies direct to Germany. It bypasses a previously existing transit route through Ukraine.

German regulators have yet not approved the opening of the multi-billion-dollar pipeline. Scholz describes it as a “private sector” project, and not a political one. The pipeline has been criticized by the United States, who claim it poses a threat to Europe’s energy security.

CNBC spoke to Thomas Benedix on Monday, Union Investment’s senior commodities portfolio manager. He said that the public opinion in Germany had changed and that people wanted to be more energy independent. But, this has been temperated by rising energy costs and the fact Russia has been a “very reliable source” of energy.

“It is possible that, if the Russia-Ukraine conflict escalates militarily, then it will not just be a business decision for Nord Stream 2 to be brought on. Although it could get more politicized than expected, our global strategists believe that there is still a chance for a diplomatic solution with a 60% chance. However, that solution will likely take several months to unfold in the end.” he said on CNBC’s “SquawkBox Europe.”