Prima facie, it may seem German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s inexperience in world politics showed in his first appearance at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday when he was dismissive about a remark by Russian leader earlier in the week at a joint press conference with him in Moscow that the events that unfolded in Ukraine’s eastern regions amounted to “genocide.”
Scholz mockingly said, “Putin is coming to argue that in Donbass there is something like genocide, which is really ridiculous, to be very clear on that.” What prompted Scholz to step onto that minefield he only knows. There was deliberateness in his performance.
Perhaps, Scholz thought it made excellent politics in front of all those powerful American politicians present in the audience in Munich to mark his distance publicly from Russia at a time when the U.S. media has been lampooning that Germany is no longer a western ally.
Surely, Scholz would know there is a taboo about the word “genocide” slipping out of the lips of a German politician. It harks back to Nazi Germany. On a rough estimation, the major genocides carried out by the Nazis alone add up to 16,315,000 victims. Germany is the world champion on this blood-stained chapter of human history, unlikely to be ever surpassed.
Scholz’s gaffe will not end here. It is overnight dovetailing into the current crisis between Russia and the West. Ironically, Scholz may have unwittingly ended up drawing attention to Moscow’s concerns over a humanitarian catastrophe brewing in Donbass, where millions of Russians live. Moscow is going to present to Scholz full documentary evidence of the genocide that Putin had referred to.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday, “My message to counterparts at the German Foreign Ministry is this: In connection with statements by Chancellor Scholz, we will present evidence concerning mass graves in this region for the German leadership to study closely.”
Zakharova disclosed that these materials have already been shared with Washington, but Moscow kept them out of public domain intentionally since their content is “unbearable.” To be sure, Scholz has a challenging week ahead.
Why is all this happening? For a start, Germany’s involvement in the Ukraine question itself is highly controversial. Germany actively promoted the unrest in Ukraine in late 2013 to push then-President Viktor Yanukovich to hurry through his country’s EU accession. German intelligence encouraged street protests in Kiev while Berlin did the arm-twisting, which ultimately forced Yanukovich to agree to hold mid-term elections to test people’s will.
Germany, France and Russia backed such an approach as the best way out of the stalemate. However, within forty-eight hours of that deal, protests took a violent turn in Kiev’s main square and agents provocateurs working for western intelligence deployed snipers at vantage points to attack the security forces.
To cut a long story short, the Ukrainian security apparatus collapsed, Yanukovich fled the country and an anti-Russian leadership emerged in Kiev with the street power of extreme nationalist forces led by neo-Nazi elements.
The bottom line is that Germany had a hand in destabilising Ukraine. The events in Ukraine expose the propaganda lie that its foreign policy offensive serves the interests of democracy and freedom. In reality, the Berlin government is working with an opposition movement whose leaders include Oleh Tyahnybok of the neo-fascist All-Ukrainian Union, or “Svoboda.” (Tyahnybok said recently that Russia would have to be “dismembered” and divided into “20 nation-states”!)
Germany played a similar dubious role in negotiating the Minsk Accords. The Steinmeier Formula proposing special status for the separatist region is a compromise path named after the present German president, but Berlin subsequently retracted from its obligation to navigate the regime in Kyiv to implement the accord. Possibly, Germany heeded American wishes.
This being the sordid backdrop, the big question is: What is Germany really up to?
The heart of the matter is that Germany is back on the path of militarisation for the third time in the past century. The vaulting German ambition is once again surfacing, first articulated by then the Foreign Minister and current President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a Bundestag speech — and in a speech at the Munich Security Conference — in late January-early February 2014 to the effect that Germany was “too big and too important” to confine itself any longer “to commenting on world politics from the sidelines.”
Steinmeier declared that due to its economic power and geographical location in the centre of Europe, Germany bore a special responsibility in regard to world affairs, adding, “We recognise our responsibility,” and, while Germany would serve as a catalyst for a common European foreign and security policy and the use of military force was only a last resort, it could not any longer be ruled out!
That was the moment of truth in German history. Germany was bidding farewell to its post-World War 2 self-diminution in foreign and security policy. Interestingly, the German Defence Minister at that time was none other than Ursula von der Leyen, the staunchly pro-American — and notoriously anti-Russian — head of the EU Commission presently.
German militarization is simply not possible without tacit U.S. encouragement stemming out of geopolitical considerations — Washington’s containment strategy against Russia. As in the past with Nazi Germany initially, American corporations are taking part in German re-armament, supplying German companies with everything from raw materials to technology and patent knowledge. This is happening thanks to a complex network of business interests, joint ventures, cooperation agreements, and cross-ownership between American and German corporations and their subsidiaries.
In the American calculus, Germany is an economic powerhouse and is the only credible European power today that can potentially checkmate Russia in terms of history and geography and geo-strategy. Unsurprisingly, meddling in the Russian-German relationship has been Washington’s approach throughout.
Germany is playing a brilliant game of hedging. It is heavily dependent on Russia for its vast market, massive natural resources and energy supplies, and, therefore, adopts a “win-win” attitude in the bilateral ties. However, Germany cannot and will not jeopardise its trans-Atlantic bonds, either. Atlanticism remains the core of German strategies.
Bundeswehr is right at the forefront of NATO’s aggressive buildup against Russia. German Minister Christine Lambrecht told Spiegel last week that a rapid and massive increase in defence spending is needed to prepare the German armed forces for a possible war against Russia. An additional €37.6 billion is reportedly being planned as defence spending to prepare the German military to fight full-scale wars.
Whichever way the U.S.-Russian tensions pan out — or, get protracted — Germany hopes to be the net winner. It may seem like an audacious hope, but is a realistic expectation. The Ukraine crisis marks Germany’s return to the centre court of European security as a superpower. France, UK, Italy etc. stand much diminished and belong to a junior league. Germany senses that its hour of reckoning is at hand. The U.S. once again encourages Germany as its principal European partner.
If Lord Ismay, NATO’s first Secretary-General, were alive today, he might revise his famous 1949 remark that the alliance’s goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Instead, he might say, looking ahead, that NATO would aim to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans out and about.”