Why Olaf Scholz Is Still Not Convincing On Ukraine
Praising the courage of the Ukrainian people, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz assured Kyiv of Germany's support for “as long as it is needed.” Not nearly enough, according to the country's opposition.
According to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz Russian President Vladimir Putin has not achieved any of his goals in Ukraine. “Not a single one of Putin’s plans has worked,” Scholz said in a speech to the German Parliament earlier this month.
He said Putin had “fundamentally miscalculated” in believing that Russian troops would overrun Ukraine within a few days.
Scholz added that Putin had assumed that Europe and other Western democracies would be too divided to help Ukraine in any meaningful way, and that the Russian leader had "believed that he could undermine European solidarity by switching off our gas supply.”
Telling it like it is
But Putin was mistaken “about the courage of the Ukrainian people, about Europe, about us, about the nature of our democracy, about our determination to oppose Russia’s imperialism and hunger for power,” said Scholz. “That is the true story of this year, 2022.”
The German chancellor said that Ukraine is standing up to Russian aggression, but the West has also stepped up to the challenge.
Germany will have 30,000 troops on standby for NATO.
“Together with our friends and partners, we have firmly supported Ukraine – through financial and humanitarian aid and by supplying weapons. We will continue to offer this support – as long as it is needed,” Scholz confirmed. “In a few weeks’ time an especially difficult year will draw to a close.” He called Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine an appalling, era-defining event.
Neighborhood watch plans
The chancellor also emphasized Germany’s unconditional commitment to its alliances. “Our allies know that they can rely on us. They know that, if necessary, we will defend every single square meter of NATO territory.” He pointed to the 100 billion euros of funding allocated to the German army.
This year and over the next two years, Germany will provide 17,000 soldiers to the NATO response force, and next year it will once again take over leadership of NATO’s rapid reaction corps. From 2025 onwards, Germany will have 30,000 troops on standby for NATO.
Offering specifics on how Germany plans to contribute to the security of its neighbors, Scholz added that the German Air Force will protect airspace over Estonia, Germany's navy will increase its presence in the Baltic Sea, and German ground troops have already strengthened NATO’s combat units in Lithuania.
Draghi, Scholz and Macron on a train to Ukraine back in June
Skepticism on EU gas price cap
Moving to the energy challenges facing Europe, Scholz expressed Germany’s skepticism over the possibility of introducing a European gas price cap. “There are no easy, quick solutions. We can’t interfere with prices in a way that will mean Europe does not have a sufficient gas supply,” he said, offering that he was sure that member states would agree on a good, pragmatic solution during the important discussions that continue at an EU level.
"You are still hiding behind your NATO allies."
Partly due to Germany’s reservations, EU states had been unable to agree on a European gas price cap. However, at a meeting on Monday, Dec. 19, European energy ministers agreed to set a 180 euros/MWh limit despite German fears that such a move would actually increase market volatility.
Scholz also pointed to big steps forward on energy security, such as the opening of the first floating liquefied natural gas terminal on Saturday in Wilhelmshaven, with more terminals to follow in the near future. Scholz spoke directly to all the workers and engineers who had contributed to realizing this “awesome achievement” in record time, saying, “it is thanks to you that this year we will make it through the winter."
Too little, too late?
In his response to Scholz’s speech, opposition leader Friedrich Merz (CDU) said the chancellor was personally responsible for the fact that Ukraine had not received the German tanks it had asked for. “The more we help, the sooner this war will be over,” said Merz. “But the Ukrainian army still doesn’t have the armored personnel carriers and battle tanks that it needs, which we could supply from our own stock and industry stock."
“Almost ten months since the war began, you are still hiding behind your NATO allies, who are apparently also reluctant to supply tanks to Ukraine. But we know that is not true,” Merz continued. “You are personally responsible for the fact that Ukraine is not getting the help it needs.”
Ahead of the upcoming EU summit, Merz also accused the chancellor of failings when it comes to EU relations. “We should not forget that we are currently experiencing deep divisions in Germany’s relationship with France,” said Merz. He added that many commentators, especially in Paris, were speaking of “a low point in relations.”
Failing on the international stage
Merz said that relations between Germany and France were vital to the strength of the European project and must be carefully maintained. “Like a good lawyer, you can draw up a meticulous inventory of every item in the house in which we all live," said Merz. "But you have no understanding of what is holding the house up, the foundations, and you don’t have an architect’s imagination or the determination of a master builder, which are necessary to make this European house weatherproof and fit for the future.”
The CDU leader concluded by blaming Scholz for failings on the wider international stage. He said the coalition government needed to agree on whether there should be a new free-trade agreement with America. And Scholz had not said “a single word” about the protests in Iran, where demonstrators have been executed, Merz said. “It is clear that there are glaring gaps in your speech, and that above all you want to avoid addressing questions over which your government is divided.”
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