US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that he had “no doubts” over Germany’s determination to stand up to Russia, after Berlin drew anger in Ukraine over its refusal to supply Kyiv with weapons.
America’s top diplomat maintained his confidence in unity among Washington’s allies, saying any Russian aggression towards Ukraine would be met with a “severe” response.
“If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way… that would trigger a swift, severe and a united response from us and from Europe,” Blinken said in an interview with CNN.
However, the German government is under pressure to reaffirm its firmness towards Russia, after some embarrassing disharmony within the new coalition and in particular a bum note sounded by a defence chief that outraged Ukraine.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned Russia against the “high costs” that any military aggression would bring, in an interview for the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
But he balanced the comment by calling for “wisdom” when weighing up possible sanctions, warning of “the consequences they would have” for Germany, Europe’s largest economy.
Ukraine has been irked by comments made by two senior German figures in recent days.
By declaring the idea that Russia could invade Ukraine as an “absurdity”, and estimating that President Putin “probably deserves” respect, the head of the German navy provoked uproar.
The resignation of Vice-admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach on Saturday night, 24 hours after the remarks he himself described as “ill-considered”, Kyiv’s irritation remains strong.
This was exacerbated by Berlin’s refusal to deliver weapons to Ukraine, which Germany’s defence minister Christine Lambrecht said would not help to defuse the border tensions with Russia. Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Germany’s stance risked “encouraging Putin” to launch an attack on his country.
In contrast, the US, the UK and the Baltic states have all announced they are sending arms to the former Soviet republic.
A month and a half after Scholz took power at the helm of a coalition with greens and free market liberals, the social democrat chancellor is beginning to attract criticism for diplomacy seen as confused and contradictory.
“The equivocations of the Germans are a danger for Western strategy,” said the weekly Spiegel publication.
Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock of the Greens, said on a visit to Kyiv last week that her country would do “everything to guarantee Ukraine’s security”.
But the confusion among the Social Democrats (SPD) over strategy concerning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russia with Germany have not facilitated a clear message.
Christine Lambrecht, the defence minister, said in mid-January that the decision on its coming into service should be separated from the Ukrainian situation. But other SPD figures, such as the former European affairs minister Michael Roth, said the opposite.
“To go back towards something like a Cold War with Russia is something Germans are very much afraid of,” tweeted Berlin-based Ulrich Speck of the US think-tank the German Marshall Fund (GMF).
“Against that backdrop, Germans are very reluctant to give up the hope that Russia can be a partner and even a friend. The idea of confrontation with Russia brings up old nightmares that Germans thought they had buried successfully.”