Explained: Three ways Germany changed its policy on Ukraine in the past week.


As the US and EU countries enact a series of punitive measures against Russia, there is indelible evidence of an about-face in the position of a key NATO member – l ‘Germany. There are at least three major decisions in the past week where Berlin has clearly marked a sharp reversal of its previously stated positions, largely to deal with mounting pressure from allies as Russia pushes its offensive deeper into Ukraine. Germany’s coming on board has been a central factor in the evolution of the united Western front against Moscow – both on economic sanctions and other punitive measures.

Reversal of the SWIFT ban proposal: The United States and the EU decided on Saturday to partially cut off a number of Russian banks from the main international payment gateway, SWIFT, alongside a freeze on the assets of the Russian central bank. While the intent of these measures is “to further isolate Russia from the international financial system,” Germany would have been a moving fence keeper to invoke the SWIFT ban. Berlin had been reluctant to help other EU countries ban Russia from the SWIFT financial system, as it felt that doing so could cause major collateral damage in Germany for companies that do business with Russia or for gas deliveries from Russia to Germany. Reports suggest that “targeted sanctions” are a transitional solution, mainly due to objections Germany had raised against large-scale sanctions. But the fact that sanctions have been launched indicates that Germany has engaged decisively, in part to deal with pressure from its NATO allies amid the new Russian attack on Kiev.

Reversal of the arms supply policy: On Saturday, Germany reversed a historic policy of not sending arms to conflict zones. The decision was a sudden shift in stance, after Berlin maintained its initial refusal to send arms to support Ukraine in the early days of the conflict. Berlin on Saturday accepted a large delivery of armaments, including anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. Significantly, the change in policy brings Germany into line with other NATO allies on the issue of arms supply. From Germany’s perspective, this is one of the most significant foreign policy changes in years, as Berlin had a long-standing policy of not sending arms to crisis areas in because of its own historical past. In line with Saturday’s decision, the German government said it would send arms to Ukraine, both directly from its own borders but also indirectly via countries like the Netherlands and Estonia. From its own stock, the German government is expected to send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger air defense systems. Berlin also allowed the Netherlands to send 400 rocket-propelled grenade launchers to Ukraine and asked Estonia to send nine artillery howitzers. Although the move is largely symbolic, it sends a clear signal.

Think back to Nord Stream 2: The third major area where Germany gave in concerns the future of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, where Berlin changed its position early last week and suspended certification of the pipeline project. The $11 billion pipeline had already driven a wedge between Germany and the United States, but with Russia’s entry into Ukraine last week, Berlin was forced to act on the pipeline. The project, owned by Russian state-owned Gazprom, stretches from Western Siberia to Germany, doubling the capacity of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline already in use. It also bypasses the pipeline that ran through Ukraine in a way that will impact Kyiv. German regulators had not issued the final legal clearances Gazprom needs to begin operations and Berlin’s decision now suspends certification of the pipeline project indefinitely.

The US viewed the pipeline as a geopolitical tool for Russia to increase Moscow’s influence over Europe, which it probably is, but Germany countered that view, mostly echoing to concerns about Europe’s lack of energy: Germany is almost totally dependent on natural gas. imports, with Russia supplying more than half of that country’s supplies in 2020, according to IHS Markit. Additionally, while Germany is a big beneficiary, some of the gas will also flow to Austria, Italy and other Central and Eastern European countries. Besides Gazprom, the pipeline was built with the support of five European energy companies: Austrian OMV, French Engie, British Shell, German Uniper and a unit of BASF, which have stakes in the project.

Before Berlin took a final position on Nord Stream 2, opinions within the German government seemed to be very divided on the issue of the pipeline. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had made it clear she believed Nord Stream 2 “should be on the table” if the Russians attacked Ukraine earlier in December, while the current chancellor and chief of the SPD, Olaf Scholz, had promised earlier that his government would do so. “do everything” to prevent Russia from using Nord Stream 2 to cripple the Ukrainian economy.

His predecessor, Angela Merkel, however, last year rebuffed a demand from German lawmakers to scrap the project after Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was poisoned in 2020. And on the other side, pipeline supporters include Gerhard Schroeder of Scholz’s own SPD party. , who was German chancellor before Merkel. Schroeder holds key positions at Russian state oil company Rosneft and Nord Stream and has defended Nord Stream 2 in interviews and praised Scholz for his “patience”.

Given the pressures in Germany, this was not an easy option. in the United States to simply dissuade Berlin from the pipeline which is ready to go into service, in the midst of a persistent energy shortage in Germany. The halt in the certification process again marks a big change in Berlin’s stated position.

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