It was delusional to think that Germany had changed

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 4 March 2024. © Richard Kemp

It comes to something when the German Chancellor appears to betray a Nato ally to help get out of a hole he dug himself.

That is exactly what Olaf Scholz did last week when he claimed that British troops are deployed in Ukraine to assist targeting of Storm Shadow missiles against the Russians. Britain’s exact role in the war beyond supply of weaponry has been kept deliberately shrouded for obvious reasons. That Scholz publicly revealed military secrets at a time when he needs to justify Germany’s refusal so far to send in the desperately needed and even more capable Taurus long range missile system may be purely coincidental. But it was followed up with an assertion that Germany could not follow the UK’s practice as it would make it a ‘participant in the war’, perhaps an attempt to shield his country from Putin’s wrath while happily throwing Britain under the bus.

Then, this week Moscow made public a call between Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, chief of the Luftwaffe, and other senior officers that they had intercepted. Their conversation also alleged the presence of British military personnel on the ground and suggested that if Germany deployed Taurus they could ask British troops to take over the same ground role with their missiles as they supposedly fulfil with Storm Shadow to avoid implicating Germany in the conflict. On top of that Gerhartz said that Berlin would not send all of the Taurus missiles in one batch, but penny packet them to ensure they ‘won’t change the course of the hostilities’.

How terrified Berlin must be of Vladimir Putin that they will go to such lengths to avoid any suggestion that they are doing more than the bare minimum in this conflict. Even worse: to actually supply the missiles, if they ever decide to do so, in a way deliberately calculated to minimise their battlefield effect. This faint-heartedness is no doubt accompanied by an eye to financial advantage given that Germany has the greatest commercial interests in Russia of all European countries.

None of that is any great surprise. Germany has been hesitant about supplying weapons to Ukraine from the start. And it was only after Putin invaded Ukraine that the Nord Stream 2 project was cancelled, well after Germany laughed off fears that reliance on Russian gas would limit its strategic autonomy and hand Putin too much control over European energy supplies.

Scholz and his generals’ recent indiscretions raise the question of whether Germany sees its strategic relations with Britain as less important than with Russia. Berlin for years blocked the delivery of Eurofighter jets to Saudi Arabia, knowing this was an important strategic priority for Britain. Scholz’s government is still broodingly resentful over Brexit, displayed again last year when, alongside the Republic of Ireland, it led the charge in Europe against an amendment to the Northern Ireland Protocol, an issue over which its direct interests are to say the least limited.

It may be that Berlin’s stance towards our country is also fed by frustration over the UK’s leading role in European support for Ukraine, in stark contrast to Germany’s much criticised heel-dragging. But whatever lies behind it, we should now be taking a much more arms-length approach towards Berlin, especially in security and foreign policy.

Image: World Economic Forum/Flickr