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Germany’s elites run scared as Putin rains down death on Ukraine - by Daniel Johnson for The Telegraph - 03.03.24

Ukrainians are paying the price for Olaf Scholz’s reluctance to confront Russia. 

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of an unholy alliance of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

What is driving European politics at present is fear. Fear of who Russia might invade next if Ukraine were to collapse. Fear of what might happen if Trump were to abandon Nato and leave Europe to the mercy of Putin.

To adapt Dr Johnson’s adage: depend upon it, sir, when leaders fear they may be invaded in a matter of months, it concentrates their minds wonderfully.

And so last week, when some two dozen European leaders assembled in Paris for a Ukraine summit, their host, Emmanuel Macron, gave voice to the rising sense of panic about the looming threats from east and west.

“This is a European war,” he told the gathering. “Should we delegate our future to the American electorate? The answer is no, whatever their vote. We mustn’t wait to find out what the result [of the US Presidential election] is. We must decide now.”

But decide what, exactly? There’s the rub. The European Union has already promised Ukraine a package of aid worth €50bn (£43bn) over several years. That package required an extraordinary amount of bribery and arm-twisting to get it past Viktor Orban.

A growing body of opinion across the Continent believes that the war is unwinnable for Ukraine and a large minority is actively pro-Russian. There is simply no consensus in favour of stepping up EU assistance to Kyiv.

So Macron decided to cast any attempt to find consensus aside. Instead, he echoed Marshal Foch in 1914: “My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat, situation excellent. J’attaque!”

Macron declared: “There’s no consensus today to send, in an official manner, troops on the ground. But in terms of options, nothing can be ruled out.”

Ruling out sending ground troops, however, is exactly what all the major Nato allies immediately did – especially when the Kremlin warned that such a step would render war between Russia and Nato “inevitable”.

The Biden administration has been struggling for months to overcome a Congressional Republican block on $60bn in new military aid to Ukraine. In an election year, putting American lives at risk in a European war is out of the question.

The British were almost as quick to scotch the idea. “Beyond the small number of personnel in-country supporting the [Ukrainian] armed forces, we do not have any plans to make large-scale deployments,” Downing Street insisted.

But the most vehement attempt to shoot down Macron’s kite came from Berlin. Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, dismissed any such suggestion, now or in future.

“There will be no ground troops, no soldiers sent [to Ukraine] by European countries or NATO states,” he declared.

Robert Habeck, Scholz’s Green vice-chancellor in Germany’s centre-Left ruling coalition, was even more pointed: “I’m pleased that France is thinking about how to increase its support for Ukraine, but if I could give it a word of advice – supply more weapons.”

Habeck was referring to the notorious reluctance of Paris to pull its weight in Ukraine. The French military commitment so far has been just £500m, a fraction of Germany’s £15bn or the UK’s £7.8bn.

Yet Macron still goaded Scholz by alluding to his habit of buckling: refusing a Ukrainian request for military assistance, wavering under pressure from allies, and then handing it over anyway.

“Many of the people who say ‘never, never’ today were the same people who said ‘never, never tanks, never, never planes, never, never long-range missiles’,” Macron told an audience that included Scholz. “I remind you that two years ago, many around this table said: ‘We will offer sleeping bags and helmets.’”

The antipathy between Scholz and Macron is mutual but seldom has it burst into the open like this. No wonder Franco-German relations are worse than at any time since 1990, when François Mitterrand’s reservations about the reunification of Germany, like those of Margaret Thatcher, were brushed aside by Helmut Kohl.

Macron’s conduct was what we have come to expect from a man whose modus operandi is, in reverse of Teddy Roosevelt’s advice, to bellow loudly and carry a rather small stick.

But it is Scholz who, in his eagerness to rebut his rival, has done far more damage to the cause of freedom.

At a time of maximum danger when Ukraine is crying out for help, Scholz and Germany at large are hesitant. Cowed by Putin’s threats, propaganda and a deep-seated public reluctance to engage again in war, Berlin is desperate to draw a line in the sand regardless of what it may mean for Kyiv.

Despite Berlin’s reluctance to pull its weight in NATO, Germany still holds the key to Europe’s response to the most dangerous onslaught on the West since 1945. This is not just because of the country’s geopolitical situation and its economic weight, but an inescapable consequence of its history.

The Ukrainian war of independence is an epochal struggle for the defence, not just of freedom, democracy and national sovereignty, but of Western civilisation itself. The Germans, whose forefathers endangered that civilisation twice in the last century, have a duty in the present one to come to its rescue.

Scholz is a decent man, but he is unequal to this task. He has failed not only Ukraine, but his NATO allies too. Ukraine is paying the price.

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Germany’s elites run scared as Putin rains down death on Ukraine – by Daniel Johnson for T
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