As the United States and European Union countries take a series of punitive measures against Russia, there is indelible evidence of a shift in the position of one of the main members of NATO – Germany. At least three major decisions were made in the past week, with Berlin clearly showing a sharp reversal of its previously stated positions, largely to counteract mounting pressure from allies as Russia pushes its offensive deeper into Ukraine. Germany’s entry into the commission was pivotal in the development of a united Western front against Moscow – both in terms of economic sanctions and other punitive measures.
Shift in SWIFT ban proposal: The United States and the European Union decided, on Saturday, to partially close a number of Russian banks from the main international payment gateway, Swift, along with freezing the assets of the Russian Central Bank. While the intent of these moves is to “give Russia more isolation from the international financial system”, Germany has been reported to have been instrumental in invoking the SWIFT ban. Berlin has been reluctant to support other EU countries in banning Russia from the SWIFT financial system, because it believes doing so could cause significant collateral damage in Germany to companies doing business with Russia or supplying gas from Russia to Germany. Reports suggest that “targeted sanctions” are a compromise, mainly due to Germany’s objections to general sanctions. But the fact that the sanctions began suggests that Germany has intervened resolutely, in part to counteract pressure from its NATO allies during the new Russian offensive on Kiev.
Reverse arms supply policy: Germany on Saturday reversed its historic policy of not sending weapons to conflict areas. The decision was a sudden change of heart after Berlin held to its initial refusal to send arms to Ukraine in the early days of the conflict. And Berlin agreed, on Saturday, to provide major weapons, including anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. The shift in policy largely brings Germany in line with other NATO allies on arms supplies. From Germany’s point of view, this is one of the most significant foreign policy shifts in years, as Berlin has long pursued a policy of not sending weapons to crisis areas due to its historical past. According to Saturday’s decision, the German government will send weapons to Ukraine, either directly from the border or indirectly through countries such as the Netherlands and Estonia. The German government will send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft systems from its own inventory. Berlin also allowed the Netherlands to send 400 rocket-propelled grenade launchers to Ukraine and asked Estonia to send nine howitzers. While the move is largely symbolic, it sends a clear signal.
Rethink Nord Stream 2: The third major area that Germany has reached is the future of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, where Berlin changed its position early last week and suspended certification of the pipeline project. The $11 billion gas pipeline caused a rift between Germany and the United States, but when Russia moved to Ukraine last week, Berlin had to work on the pipeline. The project, owned by Russia’s state-owned Gazprom, extends from western Siberia to Germany and doubles the capacity of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline already in operation. It also bypasses the pipeline through Ukraine in a way that will have an impact on Kiev. German regulators have not issued the final legal permits Gazprom will need to start operations, and Berlin’s move means that certification of the pipeline project has now been indefinitely suspended.
The United States viewed the pipeline as a geopolitical tool for Russia to increase Moscow’s influence over Europe, which it would likely do, but Germany opposed the situation, mainly after concerns about energy-intensive Europe: Germany is almost entirely dependent on imports. Natural gas, with Russia making more than half of deliveries to that country in 2020, according to IHS Markit. While Germany is the biggest beneficiary, some gas will also be transported to Austria, Italy and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition to Gazprom, the pipeline was built with the support of five European energy companies: Austria’s OMV, France’s Engie, Britain’s Shell, Germany’s Uniper and BASF, which have interests in the project.
Before Berlin took a final stand on Nord Stream 2, opinions within the German government seemed deeply divided over the pipeline problem. German Foreign Minister Annalena Barbock has made it clear that she believes Nord Stream 2 “should be on the table” if the Russians attack Ukraine earlier in December, while current chancellor and SPD leader Olaf Scholz pledged earlier that his government would. Everything “to prevent Russia from using Nord Stream 2 to cripple the economy of Ukraine.
But his predecessor, Angela Merkel, last year rejected German lawmakers’ request to halt the project after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned in 2020. On the other hand, one of the pipeline’s supporters is Schulz’ SPD’s Gerhard Schroeder. Who was the chancellor of Germany before Merkel. Schroeder holds key positions at Russian oil company Rosneft and Nord Stream and has defended Nord Stream 2 in interviews and praised Schulz for his “patience”.
Given the fate and pressure in Germany, this was not an easy choice. The US simply has to talk about Berlin outside its operational pipeline, amid Germany’s persistent energy shortage. The halting of the ratification process represents another major shift in Berlin’s outspoken position.
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