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Are homeowners in Frankfurt to blame for the atrocities in Ukraine?
Some critics think so. “Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression runs on the money Russia gets by selling fossil fuels to Europe,” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently. “Germany…has in effect become Putin’s prime enabler.”
That’s arguably a harsh judgment. But some think it’s warranted, not least because it chose to ignore warnings about its increasing dependence on Russian energy for decades.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz inaugurated a Zeitenwende (historic turning point) when he announced that he would hike military spending by more than $100 billion and increase military spending to more than two percent of Germany’s gross domestic product, reported National Public Radio.
The move was significant because Germany has long declined to beef up its military to match its economic strength in Europe, preferring to allow Britain and France to play preeminent roles in NATO and European defense, the Local explained. The country’s Nazi past and the guilt associated with the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust were the contexts for those pacifist inclinations. Even so, Germany is a major arms supplier to countries around the world, and many at home and abroad have suggested it has used its past to avoid its military responsibilities in lieu of business opportunities both in arms and other products.
Still, columnist David Von Drehle was ebullient in praising Germany for emerging from 77 years of a “timeout” from geopolitics.
The turning point might not be so dramatic as some might think, however. The German Marshall Fund cast doubt on whether Germany will really assume a military leadership position in Europe, given how it will take years to build up the Bundeswehr, the German armed forces. It’s also not clear exactly how the additional money will be spent, noted the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Then there is the lukewarm support for the West and Ukraine that lingers, especially in the East, as the Washington Post noted. “Both sides have made mistakes,” said one resident of the eastern state of Saxony, echoing opinions that have been prevalent also on German talk shows and in the west of the country. “The truth is in the middle.”
Still, in the short term, it’s business and the energy that fuels it that matters. Germany is one of the holdouts in the European Union on a complete ban on Russian energy. Still, Germany wants to end coal imports from Russia this year, Euronews wrote. Scholz recently said that oil purchases from Russia could end this year, too, reported Reuters. Stopping Russian gas imports won’t be as easy. Russian gas accounts for 40 percent of Germany’s gas needs. Scholz hopes to reduce that number to 24 percent in the next few months.
Putin has responded by demanding that Germany and other European nations pay for Russian gas in rubles, a move that would help Russia circumvent economic sanctions that the international community slapped on the country as punishment for the Ukraine invasion, Bloomberg reported. Scholz and other leaders have yet to respond to the demand.
If a full-blown trade conflict erupts between German and Russia, meanwhile, it could trigger a worldwide financial shock, CNBC added.
Germany chose to intertwine its economy with Russia in hopes of preserving peace and bringing Russia into the fold. Now Scholz is dealing with the fallout of that fallacious assumption.