Speed Reads

Western Wrangling

Germany is a major wild card in the West's efforts to deter Russia in Ukraine

The U.S. and its European allies are readying troops and sending armaments to Ukraine or NATO's eastern flank to deter, or respond to, Russia's possible invasion of Ukraine. At least most of them are. "In recent days Germany — Europe's largest and richest democracy, strategically situated at the crossroads between East and West — has stood out more for what it will not do than for what it is doing," The New York Times reports.

Germany has a long, complicated relationship Russia, and the party of new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrats, have traditionally favored working with the Russians rather than confronting them. "Germany's evident hesitation to take forceful measures has fueled doubts about its reliability as an ally," the Times reports, "and added to concerns that Moscow could use German wavering as a wedge to divide a united European response to any Russian aggression." 

The Biden administration has gone out of its way to show confidence in Berlin, but even that  is being viewed by some as a sign of concern. "It is telling that the U.S. has to publicly reaffirm its trust in Germany," Jana Puglierin of the Berlin-based European Council on Foreign Relations told the Times. "That used to be a given." 

Prominent leaders in Germany have warned against bargaining with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will bring natural gas to Germany from Russia, and others argue that proposals to freeze Russian banks from the Swift payment transaction network would harm Germany's economy. "Germany's muddled stance has been especially unsettling to Ukraine and some of Germany's eastern neighbors," the Times says, and they have not been shy about criticizing Germany's waffling. 

The doubts about Germany's willingness to confront Moscow is one potential obstacle to a united Western response to a Russian invasion, but it's not the only one. "The EU, U.S., and other Western allies are adamant that Russia will face heavy sanctions if it attacks Ukraine — but there is widespread uncertainty over what would constitute an attack short of a full-scale invasion," Politico reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin "well recognizes that Europe's main power base is France, Germany, and Britain," British lawmaker Tobias Ellwood told The Washington Post. "If these three countries are united, the rest of Europe follows. If you can sow divisions among these three, then there's no leadership, there's no coordination, and there's no unity."