At Michael Kretschmer, the old pictures are now being dug out again. How he is in Moscow, but Vladimir Putin does not receive him and instead Kretschmer sits on a sofa and is allowed to call Putin on a rather antiquated telephone. At that time, April 2021, he was also one of the biggest supporters of ordering the Russian Sputnik vaccine – because it could be better received in Saxony than others. Now the Prime Minister of Saxony has struck a new tone that is uncomfortable for CDU leader Friedrich Merz when it comes to dealing with the war president Putin. Because of the fear of missing gas deliveries.

“We must work to ensure that this war is frozen,” Kretschmer stressed. Merz prefers not to comment on this, which speaks for itself. He was the first top German politician in Kyiv and pushed the traffic light coalition to decide on the delivery of heavy weapons – although only seven self-propelled howitzers have been delivered so far. Stop Putin with weapons is the Merz line. Talking to Putin and thus freezing the war is Kretschmer’s plan.

Germany must play a mediating role, he says in the direction of Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), which is more in line with the SPD left than the CDU leadership, but in Saxony many citizens share exactly this attitude, many see the arms deliveries here as highly dangerous Escalation.

Kretschmer emphasizes that this does not mean that Ukraine should give up any territory. Russia’s war is an injustice and a crime. But one must recognize that the war is throwing the entire world, and Europe in particular, into chaos. If it continues like this, there is a risk of losing the economic strength that is necessary to organize security and remain competitive. “I firmly believe that we need these supplies of raw materials.”

But doesn’t freezing the war mean that Ukraine will lose large areas in the east after Crimea, even if it doesn’t recognize it? At the same time, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made it clear that they want to reach out to the east to the south of Ukraine. If the strategically important port city of Odessa were to be annexed by Russia, it would be a catastrophe for Kyiv and could accelerate its collapse, experts fear.

“Russia doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to negotiate, doesn’t want to stop committing the worst crimes,” says FDP defense politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann. Every call that “one must approach Russia” not only ignores the dire consequences for Germany, but also makes a mockery of Ukraine, makes a mockery of freedom, makes a mockery of human rights.

The previous Ukrainian ambassador Andriy Melnyk says with regard to Kretschmer: “Your constant pandering to the war criminal Putin is disgusting.” The left-wing politician Sahra Wagenknecht praises Kretschmer on the other hand, because “Russian raw materials and, above all, the relatively cheap Russian energy are the conditions of existence for a competitive German industry”. AfD boss Tino Chrupalla emphasizes that Kretschmer is swinging towards the AfD line.

Ultimately, Kretschmer’s admission reflects a concern that is also shared in Berlin: that the mood could change. “For the first time since mid-February, it is no longer the situation in the Ukraine (63 percent) but the energy supply (69 percent) that concerns Germans the most, according to the opinion research institute Forsa.

53 percent see more damage for Germany than for Russia as a result of the sanctions. Despite the two relief packages with a volume of over 30 billion euros, less than a third of Germans have the impression that the federal government is doing enough to combat rising energy prices.

Market psychologist Dirk Ziems, who and his team are investigating how Germans feel, also warns of a change in mood. “The whole war is now far away from the average citizen. There is still a high level of interest, but no longer this form of immediate concern. Especially if the economic pressure increases, solidarity with Ukraine could dwindle.

Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU), who previously also noticed his closeness to Putin, recently emphasized the damage to his own country in view of the throttling of Russian gas supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipe. “The strategy of quickly bringing Russia to its knees with sanctions has not worked so far,” he told “Bild”.

“Western weapons have so far shown significantly more effect against Russia than the sanctions imposed.” But these statements gave some in the CDU and CSU stomach ache, so a clear public positioning is planned again. At the opening statement of the CSU state group retreat in front of the stately backdrop of Banz Monastery, Söder sounds different again.

The CSU leader emphasizes with a serious expression that his party stands by sanctions “without ifs or buts”. However, the federal government must keep its promise that Germany will get through this winter well despite the sanctions. “Where is the replacement gas?” asks Söder and warns that the east and south of the republic should not be left behind when it comes to gas deliveries in the event of a shortage. CSU regional group leader Alexander Dobrindt distances himself even more clearly: “Michael Kretschmer occupies a special position.” But that is not the attitude of the CDU and CSU.

The CDU defense expert Roderich Kieswetter, who accompanied Merz on the visit to Kyiv, spoke in an interview with the “Tagesspiegel” of a “minor opinion” in the Union. But he also sees the danger of a tipping point, which is why more convincing work is required among the citizens. Of course, the Union’s energy policy has also contributed to the current situation.

“We now have to work humbly to ensure that social cohesion is maintained,” emphasizes Kiesewetter. If Russia kept advancing, 15 to 20 million people would leave the country instead of 7 million. “Yes, and then there are not 3 million in Poland and 800,000 with us, but 3 million with us and 5.6 million in Poland.”

What is needed now, above all, is political leadership from Chancellor Olaf Scholz – and more courage. Kieswetter has received information from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to which there is great bitterness there, since the planned tank ring exchange is not getting off the ground and Germany only wants to deliver around 20 Leopard 2 tanks from April 2023, although Poland has already received almost 300 T-72 tanks. gave tanks to Ukraine.

So it’s no wonder that Eastern European countries like Poland are orienting themselves towards the USA and are now buying Abrams tanks. You gamble away with your eyes wide open the trust that has been built up over the years. In the Foreign Affairs Committee, Scholz described a direct delivery of Marder tanks to Ukraine as a “terrible escalation”, but at the same time said that if the USA delivered tanks directly, that would also be done. Kiesewetter sees Scholz as a highly dangerous form of tactics for Ukraine.