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BERLIN – Chancellor Olaf Schulz is finding the hard way that there is more to leading Germany than being Angela Merkel is an act of honor.
Schulz will meet Joe Biden at the White House on Monday as part of a US trip aimed at repairing the damage done to Berlin’s reputation on both sides of the Atlantic by the Ukraine crisis.
The 63-year-old former finance minister won Germany’s general election last fall by portraying herself as Merkel’s natural successor, emphasizing the continuity of her unwavering approach to politics at home and abroad and even embracing her brand. pensive hand gesture.
However, after two months of leading a three-party coalition, the SPD is under fire on multiple fronts, accused of failing to show leadership, sending mixed messages and taking a too soft stance with Moscow in its confrontation with Ukraine and the West. .
Berlin’s decision not to deliver defensive weapons to Ukraine, and its moves to prevent the Allies from sending arms as well, angered some allies, particularly in Eastern Europe. The reluctance to state clearly that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany would be subject to sanctions if Moscow attacked Ukraine has angered many, particularly in Washington.
The German ambassador to the United States, Emily Haber, wrote in a leaked A diplomatic cable at the end of last month warned that a growing number of politicians in Washington were describing Germany as an “unreliable partner”. Haber even Back On Fox News – not the normal terrain for a professional diplomat – as part of an effort to undo bad press.
Back home, the counselor was heavy Criticize for being largely absent while his government was criticized by allies and the international media for apparently failing its first major foreign policy test.
Fully aware that Germany depends heavily on the United States for its security, Schulz will be pressured in Washington to show that Europe’s economic powerhouse remains committed to the transatlantic alliance and the leading position in international affairs it held under Merkel.
Angela Merkel has long played a very important role in relations with Russia and other Eastern European countries, but also with Western partners. These are very big steps, and the new government has yet to fill in, said Sabine Fischer, a foreign policy expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).
“In the United States, Schultz will face expectations from various parties to show a clearer position with regard to Russia and Ukraine,” she added. “His government will not be able to escape this pressure anymore.”
Schulz will also meet with members of the US Congress and do a television interview with CNN – the kind of PR pressure that Merkel did not need to do on her recent visits to the US.
With accusations mounting that he missed it in the midst of a crisis, Schultz Appeared on German TV last week to insist that Berlin remains a reliable international partner.
“Our allies know exactly what’s inside of them,” he said, noting that Germany had been a major supplier of forces to NATO, and declaring that it had been the largest donor of financial aid to Ukraine in recent years, contributing nearly two billion euros.
Scholz also aims to show that Berlin can play an important role in the Ukraine crisis travel To Kiev and Moscow on February 14 and 15.
German officials point out that Berlin has traditionally had closer ties with Moscow than some of its other Western allies, and argue that these links may be useful in defusing tensions over Ukraine. They also say their approach complements the tougher stance of other allies: while the United States, Britain and others are playing the bad cop, Berlin’s softer stance may provide a path to de-escalation.
However, there is widespread acknowledgment in Berlin that the government’s handling of the Ukraine crisis so far has been somewhat unfortunate.
Although Merkel had previously also refused to deliver arms shipments to Kiev, this was in the midst of an armed conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, rather than in the face of an immediate threat of a full-scale invasion by some 130,000 Russian soldiers. However, Schulze’s government flatly refused Ukrainian requests to hand over the weapons, arguing that its historical responsibilities for past atrocities meant it should not ship weapons to conflict areas.
But critics note that Germany has in recent years exported billions of dollars in military equipment to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are accused of human rights abuses in the Yemen conflict. Moreover, in 2014 and 2016, Berlin also delivered anti-tank rifles and missiles to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces to support them in their fight against the Islamic State.
An attempt by the government to quell some criticism from before Send 5,000 helmets It backfired heavily for Ukraine, with Berlin being mocked internationally.
The message was supposed to be that Germany was beginning to change its position. Previously, even the delivery of protective military equipment such as helmets or jackets was refused. But Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht’s announcement that the shipment was a “very clear signal” of support made the Schulz government a target of ridicule. “It was a disaster,” one Berlin official admitted.
Michael Roth, an MP for Schulz’s Social Democrats and chair of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee, said Berlin needed to do a better job of defining its policy and the reasons behind it.
“We must explain to our partners in an understandable way why we are acting in this way, and how many ways we support Ukraine,” he said.
Christoph Heusgen, a former foreign and security policy adviser to Merkel, urged the new government to move forward and rethink its policy on arms exports.
While he acknowledged the reluctance inherent in Germany’s history in World War II to ship weapons to crisis areas, especially if the Russians ended up being killed, he noted that Berlin was also providing “the latest submarines” to Israel, citing historical responsibility as justification.
The same reasoning can be applied to Ukraine, which also suffered greatly from German atrocities during World War II, for example when German soldiers killed more than 30,000 Ukrainian Jews in chapter yea In 1941.
This means a special responsibility towards Ukraine to ensure that aggression against the country is not repeated. In my view, this commitment will be fulfilled by providing defensive weapons to Ukraine,” said Heusgen, who will take over this year as chair of the Munich Security Conference, a major annual gathering of foreign policy and defense leaders.
Domestic politics also hampered Shultz’s ability to take a clear position on Ukraine.
The new government is made up of three parties, of which two – Schultz’s centre-left Social Democrats and Secretary of State Annalina Barbock’s Green Party – face divisions within their own ranks over how to deal with Russia and support Ukraine.
Divisions are particularly strong within the SPD, where prominent politicians such as General Secretary Kevin Konert and head of the party’s parliamentary group, Rolf Mutzenich, have expressed strong opposition to arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Several SPD politicians, including Defense Minister Lambrecht, have also spoken out strongly against the inclusion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline in possible sanctions against Russia.
It took weeks of internal wrangling before Shultz and the party publicly reaffirmed their commitment to an agreement Biden and Merkel struck last year that Nord Stream 2 would be at stake if Russia attacked Ukraine.
On Friday, it was announce That former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, also of the Social Democrats, has been nominated to join the board of Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy company behind Nord Stream 2.
Heusgen said Schulz’s visit to Washington should be a sobering test for Germany, which cannot rely on the United States to provide security for Europe forever, but will have to do more to provide the stability that is critical to its role as the world’s fourth largest country. Economie.
“We have to be realistic about the fact that the United States faces enormous internal challenges… and at the same time intensifies its foreign policy efforts to meet the biggest and most important challenge, which is China,” he said.
It is better for us, first of all, to be aware of this and at the same time to become more active in the actions of our foreign policy. We will have to take more responsibility.”