Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken Berlin out of a longtime geopolitical stupor and shattered the notion of reasoning with the dictator in the Kremlin. For too many years, naïveté and business interests have defined German foreign policy. Now, a range of German politicians are undertaking a rite of penance.
“I’m so angry at ourselves for our historic failure,” wrote former German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. “After Georgia, Crimea, and Donbas, we have not prepared anything that would have really deterred Putin.”
As Putin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine, Alfons Mais, the German military’s chief of staff, publicly described his country’s army as “more or less bare,” with “extremely limited” options to support the NATO alliance. He never imagined he would have to experience a war, he added — in what was an incredible statement given that the very raison d’être of an army is being prepared for war.
Germany’s political establishment has failed to think in terms of raw power. There was a supercilious belief that other actors look at the world in a similar way. Europe might have replaced weapons with words — shooting instead with summits, so to speak — and the balance of power with the rule of law. But that doesn’t mean others, such as Moscow or Beijing, made such a shift.
In contrast, Putin’s historical essays and recent speeches demonstrate how deeply Russian imperialism and a Leninist who-kills-whom mindset define his thinking. Returning Russia to the top echelons of the global hierarchy is his ambition. Germany, oblivious to his vision, believed in the end of the Cold War and the inviolability of the post-Cold War order.
From Moscow, Putin sees a US president beleaguered by deep domestic divisions, a new German government finding its footing, a French president in an election campaign, and an embattled British prime minister. To him, the correlation of forces has changed in Russia’s favor. With a window of opportunity to change the world order to his liking, he has seized the moment.
From doing business to galvanized action
The late eleventh Marquess of Lothian, a British politician and diplomat, once observed that “peace comes from there being overwhelming…