If you think that Boris Johnson’s parties in Downing Street constitute a serious matter of state, you might want to take a look at what is happening in Germany right now. Olaf Scholz has been caught red-handed misrepresenting facts about weapons deliveries to Ukraine. Behind the scenes, he is busy frustrating efforts to help the country, while pretending to be outraged about Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
Double games work until they don’t. His policies are now being exposed by the media. Scholz said on Tuesday that Germany and Ukraine went through a list of weapons deliveries, and that Germany planned to pay for them. Ukraine denied this. It said that there were no weapons on the list that it needed right now. Bildmanaged to get hold of the list, and was shocked to find that the original list of 48 pages had been shrunk in half. The German defence ministries, on orders from Scholz, had removed all the heavy weapons.
Ukraine have been asking for rocket launchers, as well as anti-ship and anti-tank missiles. They also asked for transport tanks. Scholz’s office denied all of these requests.
Outwardly, however, Scholz is pretending to support Ukraine. He says in his defence that other countries are doing exactly the same, which is another lie. The US, the UK, Australia and the Netherlands are all delivering heavy weapons.
Scholz is clearly playing a double game. He and his party to this day remain heavily invested in the bilateral relationship with Russia, which is arguably the most important strategic relationship in post-war Europe. It looks like the SPD has been betting on a Ukrainian capitulation following a short war. The SPD was shocked by Putin’s invasion, but the party is clearly not ready to break with him.While Scholz is acting behind the scenes against Ukraine, he is pretending to be a loyal member of the western alliance. His double game is now turning into a crisis within the coalition. Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck have been trying to keep the lid on this, cautiously supporting Scholz’s position in contrast to their own previous loud support for weapons deliveries.
But other Green politicians are not so forgiving. Anton Hofreiter, head of the European committee in the Bundestag, has warned that Scholz’s hesitation has increased the danger that the conflict in Ukraine could turn into world war three. He accused Scholz of working behind the scenes to frustrate economic sanctions and weapons deliveries. Hofreiter is one of the Green party’s top politicians and was overlooked for a cabinet post. As a prominent member of the party’s left, he is now in a unique position to criticise the government.
Is it possible that the government might fall over this? There are hints that this might happen, though it is still a few accidents away. Ironically, it is now up to Friedrich Merz, the opposition leader and CDU chairman, to test the coalition’s cohesion. His party is currently pondering whether to launch a formal vote in the Bundestag in favour of heavy weapons deliveries to Ukraine. That would put the coalition on the spot. Various Green and FDP politicians might support the move.
The CDU said it wanted to check what weapons had been delivered. The list obtained by Bild provides the answers. It is interesting to see how the newspaper, which supported Scholz during the campaign and during the coalition talks, is now becoming the chancellor’s fiercest critic in the media.
It is not clear, however, that the CDU is ready to act at this point. They are debating their position internally. The party has not yet recovered from last year’s political disaster. Important state elections are due next month. If they are seen to break with the government on foreign policy on a big issue of national interest, that might play against them. On the other hand, they know that more and more Germans are opposing Scholz’s course on weapons deliveries. This is the first opportunity for
Friedrich Merz to land a heavy blow against Scholz. In contrast to the SPD, the CDU is not nearly as invested in the relationship with Russia as the SPD. It would be much easier for Merz to extricate himself from those policies than it is for Scholz.
This article was first published in the EuroIntelligence morning briefing. For a trial subscription click here.
WRITTEN BYWolfgang Münchau
Wolfgang Münchau is a former co-editor of Financial Times Deutschland and