Ukraine war shakes up political situation in Germany
The German parliament debates the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine at the Bundestag in Berlin, April 28, 2022. | Fabian Sommer/dpa via AP

BERLIN—While backroom profiteers in the shadows count up newly-acquired millions and billions from armament purchases or sales of fracked gas due to the Ukraine war, the rest of us are left opposing both Putin’s criminal war as well as all attempts, on the other side, to prolong, extend and gain from it.

That is where Germany comes in. On Feb. 3, 2015, George Friedman, founder of Stratfor, supposedly the world’s top geopolitical intelligence outfit, said that a main goal of U.S. policy had long been to make sure there was no cooperation between Russia and Germany.

This goal now seems to have been achieved, once again. The current media-incited atmosphere of hatred against anything remotely connected with Russia recalls the iciest phase of the Cold War, and perhaps an earlier era as well, Germany’s most infamous.

A Bundeswehr truck carrying a self-propelled howitzer leaves the Hindenburg barracks in Munster, Germany, heading east. | Philipp Schulze / dpa via AP

The uneasy coalition now governing the country, after finally achieving a three-party Social Democrat-Green-Free Democrat truce and dropping plans for compulsory anti-COVID vaccination, soon faced a far more fundamental issue: What assistance should Germany send Ukraine? Should it consist of money and light weapons or extend to “heavy weapons” like tanks and artillery?

The Greens, once seen as a left-leaning party, are now led by the sharpest of Russia-haters, who spouted incendiary statements long before Putin sent in the troops. Most prominent are young, virulent Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Vice-Chancellor/Economics-Environment Minister Robert Habeck, both “Atlanticists” with what might better be called “Potomac” positions.

As for the Free Democrats, whose allegiance, quite overtly, is to big business, the heavier the weapons the better; yes, tanks, missiles, artillery, anything. In this—and despite coalition-soothing words from their leader, Finance Minister Christian Lindner—the FDP leans suspiciously towards the Christian Democrats, now trying to regain strength in opposition, well to the right of their retired leader Angela Merkel.

The Social Democrats, the strongest party in the Bundestag and led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, seemed to support a surprisingly different position. Germany, in fifth place worldwide for armaments exports, has long kept to an older West German rule not to send weapons into conflict areas—or partially kept to it, since somehow there was frequent leakage.

Scholz warned almost movingly that heavy weapons sent to Kiev would expand the conflict, involve more countries, and increase chances for a major war, possibly atomic. He seemed to be reflecting the position of those industrial sectors which depended heavily on exports to Russia and, more important, Germany’s considerable dependency on Russian oil, coal, and gas to power its economy.

In February, Germany was importing 55% of its gas from Moscow; despite all its haste, developing substitute sources like oil from the Persian Gulf or the Atlantic and gas from U.S. fracking would take time and cause great unemployment, shortages, and general misery. The need for Russian energy imports and sales to Russia and China had long been a balancing factor against belligerent Atlanticists and their allies, the armament groupies.

But it was these forces who won the day. An immense campaign was intensified against Scholz, with the opposition Christian Democrats loud and angry and his two coalition partners offering no real support. The media offered endless accounts of war damage and atrocities, true or alleged, with constant repetition of the worst pictures. The U.S. and eastern Europe, above all Poland and the Baltic countries, traditional foes of Russia, tightened the screws against Scholz’s “hesitancy.”

Most unrelenting was the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, whose attacks against Scholz, ex-Chancellor Merkel, and President Steinmeier were anything but diplomatic.

“The Germans are going to regret that they are once again the last ones to agree,” he declared. “We (Ukraine) have become the biggest victim of this perverted relationship. Ukrainians are paying for this failed German policy with their lives. This kind of hypocrisy with Russia dates back to Nord Stream 1 (gas pipeline),” said Melnyk.

“Germany’s huge dependence on Russia, at a time of the worst aggression since the Second World War, is shameful,” he carried on. “Germany is as far away from giving us the support we need today as it was at the start of the war…. More than 40 days later, the German political elite apparently still does not believe that Ukraine can win the war.”

For many, Melnyk’s blatant imperatives went much, much too far for an ambassador. But he was supported by President Volodymyr Zelensky, who, when Steinmeier planned a joint trip to Kiev with the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania “to send a strong signal of joint European solidarity,” he was told that he was not welcome there because of his year-long detente policy towards Moscow.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been pressured to take a more aggressive stance on the export of heavy weapons. | Markus Schreiber / AP

An unprecedented snub

This, based on his years as foreign minister under Merkel, was an almost unprecedented snub. But while she—no longer in office—stood by her 2008 stance against admitting Kiev to NATO, Steinmeier abjectly acknowledged that his policy of détente “had been mistaken.”

In the end, Scholz, too, could not withstand the pressure and backed down, announcing, “We decided that Germany should hand over weapons to Ukraine to defend itself.” He concluded, “Putin’s aggression meant we could give no other answer.” That means tanks to Kiev—perhaps older Soviet-made tanks which the Ukrainians were acquainted with, to be sent by Slovenia, which would then receive a similar number of modern tanks from Germany in a face-saving swap.

In the changing atmosphere, Scholz made doubly clear that he was now free of any pacifist impulses he may possibly have entertained previously. Bowing to the usual querulous complaints of Defense Ministers more aptly called War Ministers (the new one, Christine Lambrecht, third woman in a row in that job, but this time a Social Democrat) that the Bundeswehr was far from its necessary military fitness, Scholz proposed a rise of 100 billion euros ($112 billion USD) in the amount spent on the military. Though threatened by no one, Germany had already seen the largest defense budget increases of all major 15 countries, before this latest one.

A part of the sum would be for travel, with Germany’s contingent on maneuvers in Lithuania to be increased. Minister Lambrecht said that Germany was strengthening its “troop contribution on NATO’s eastern flank and sending a clear sign of our resolve to our allies.” Very old German veterans might recall place names from attacks launched there against Leningrad eight decades ago. Somewhat younger men, with many-starred shoulders, clearly enjoyed the idea of being military alpha wolf in Europe.

Klaus Ernst of Die Linke (The Left Party) reacts during debate on the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine at the parliament in Berlin, Germany, April 28, 2022. | Fabian Sommer / dpa via AP

All major parties supported the giant new spending decision. Opposed were the right-wing AfD delegates, who generally supported Putin in the past but may now be splitting on the issue. They usually vote against the government on everything, in keeping with their hopes of taking over someday.

One single Christian Democratic maverick (from East Germany) also voted no. And so did the entire caucus of Die Linke (The Left), this time united. The party’s caucus co-chairperson, Amira Mohamed Ali, stated: “We from The Left cannot and will not join in such rearmament, such militarization. History teaches us that competition in arms production does not bring security. What is necessary is disarmament and diplomacy.” She also stressed that the caucus agrees that “Russia is responsible for an offensive war, breaking all rules of international law.”

The obvious plans in Washington and Berlin are to continue or expand the fighting, regardless of human losses, until Russia is defeated or taken over. They embody an extreme danger, along with the almost racist hysteria against Russia, with all its echoes from an evil past. The only possible policy for people of good will must certainly be to demand a quick end of hostilities and negotiations for a peaceful solution, despite all plans of the crusading militarists.

This was the predominant message at countless Easter weekend peace demonstrations all over Germany, east, west, north, and south—still small, but larger than they have been for years. Then, on May Day, working people, especially those in unions, surprised the nation by proclaiming just this message, loud and clear, hissing Olaf Scholz for sending weapons to Ukraine and for increasing the military budget while so many are hit hard—and while the monopolies flourish.

He shouted, enraged, at the unexpected chorus of whistles, while Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey, also a Social Democrat, was rewarded with eggs being thrown at him for a similar message. The anger seems clearer and stronger than it has in many years.

Die Linke’s existence in danger

In this situation, and with these dangers, the voice of The Left party in the Bundestag and state legislatures is extremely important. It remains an anti-fascist, anti-militarist voice for people’s rights—and one with a vision.

But, tragically, The Left now faces not only exclusion from most of these bodies for failure to reach the required 5% level, but also a worse internal crisis than ever before.

With its poll rates dropping, the nasty resignation of one of its chairwomen, phony accusations against the other because of an alleged sex scandal, plus, most important, a deep split on major political issues, especially military and foreign policy, worsened by the Ukraine war, the party’s existence is endangered.

Pro- or anti- in regard to NATO, pro- or anti- on hopes for government seats; these and other basic questions will be fought over at the June congress in Erfurt, at which the entire executive body and two chairpersons will be newly elected. The end result is anything but certain.


CONTRIBUTOR

Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled his U.S. Army post in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive, and became a freelance journalist and author. His books available in English: Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany. His latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, reasons for the fall of socialism, and importance of today's struggles.

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