Understanding Olaf Scholz is a science in itself. The chancellor runs the risk of unjustified negative judgments being made about him, which will also eat into his coalition. Every word is weighed in gold, the communication between the chancellor and his team is and remains unfortunate at times, too unclear. Now Scholz has a great opportunity to refute the critics.
And to surprise, like in the days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. If you like, a circle closes in the Bundestag in this first week of June. On February 27, he gave his now historic turning point speech in the German Bundestag, but after that he wasn’t able to deliver it convincingly. On April 28, the Bundestag, with the votes of the traffic light coalition and the Union, decided that Ukraine could also be supplied with heavy weapons. After that, not much happened and Scholz became more and more defensive.
First of all, it must succeed in reaching an agreement with the Union on the 100 billion special assets for the Bundeswehr to be anchored in the Basic Law and on further defense financing – it is the core of his turning point policy. Scholz needs a two-thirds majority to change the Basic Law. In connection with this, it must be clarified what is to be purchased and, above all, how can the procurement system finally be accelerated and reformed? So far he has maintained that Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, who seems overwhelmed, is the right person for this.
If he then gave a chancellor’s speech during the general debate on Wednesday, which went into detail about what he wanted in terms of heavy arms deliveries and what he could promise, and thus spelled out solidarity with Ukraine with deeds, the view of him could change.
And he could show Vladimir Putin that he is not impressed by the latter’s recent warnings in a joint telephone call not to supply Kyiv with any more weapons, and is thus showing leadership.
Part of Scholz’s method is that he doesn’t let himself be driven, that he can be stubborn – remember how weeks before the war he didn’t even want to say the word Nord Stream 2 because he believed it would be Vladimir Putin from going to war if he is deliberately left in the dark about the extent of the sanctions.
However, the Scholz method also means that he only provides information when results have been firmly agreed, not about intentions and intermediate statuses. In the case of arms deliveries, that would mean only when contracts are fixed. Following the method, in the shadow of the difficult Scholz weeks, intensive negotiations should have taken place away from the public and more should have been achieved and agreed upon than is previously known.
So far, however, many questions remain unanswered: Is he willing to also supply Marder armored personnel carriers? Or do alleged informal NATO agreements stand in the way of this? What else is possible on the subject of artillery and anti-aircraft defense? Was it possible to find more ammunition for the Gepard anti-aircraft tank, the transfer of which to the Ukraine has so far been blocked by neutral Switzerland, where it was manufactured centrally?
On the battlefield, the balance is clearly changing to the detriment of Ukraine, with the Russian army gradually gaining ground in Donbass. But if Scholz again only gives a speech with known positions, and no agreement is reached with the special fund, he will face very complicated weeks.
Certainly, the debate has taken on strange traits, as if the war could be won by German arms deliveries to Ukraine alone. No, the deliveries from all NATO countries together are decisive. And narrowing the debate down to 100 Marder infantry fighting vehicles is a mistake.
It is now evident that the Russian army is relying primarily on massive artillery fire in the Donbass to minimize its own casualties. Therefore, the anti-aircraft defense of the Ukrainian army urgently needs to be strengthened. The approximately 30 cheetah tanks can make a good contribution to this. There has also been speculation for weeks as to whether Germany could also supply modern air defense systems that could better protect threatened cities and intercept Russian attacks. Air defense systems in particular could reduce the casualties on the Ukrainian side and counteract the Russian destructive offensive in the long term. A majority of citizens support his deliberative policy, but Scholz’s course is not always understood internationally, and here too he urgently needs to provide more clarity. This week offers a good opportunity to get back on the offensive with his chancellorship.