Washington Rarely stood Germany in the USA as in focus as in the past few days. Not only US media are discussing the decision of the federal government, not to supply tanks to Ukraine for the time being in order to be able to defend itself against the Russian invasion. The tank debate was also the number one topic in US department briefings, in Congress and in the White House. memories of donald trump woke up, who regularly criticized Germany during his presidency and thus made the American headlines.
US President Joe Biden was asked about the tank controversy at an event on Friday – and responded curtly. “The Ukraine will get all the help she needs,” he said and left. The government in Kyiv sees things differently. “There is no alternative to more tanks,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. For now, though, the UK is the only country that will send tanks into the war zone.
Talks about a Western strategy for Ukraine seem deadlocked, and Germany appears to be the main culprit for many countries. On Saturday, the foreign ministers of the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania called on the federal government to reconsider its decision. “Germany, as a leading European power, bears a special responsibility,” wrote the ministers.
The German decision caused outrage in the United States. “The refusal of scholz‘ wrote American historian Anne Applebaum on Saturday, ‘makes no sense’. Applebaum accused the Chancellor of “a personal quirk” that he “didn’t want to be told anything”.
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Lindsay Graham, a Republican senator who was visiting Kyiv, was more explicit: He’s tired of the “shit show” — an English term for chaos — about “who’s going to send tanks and when they’re going to send them,” he said. “And I say to the Germans: send tanks to Ukraine. It is in your interest that Putin loses.”
Who will take the first step: Germany or the USA?
This was preceded by days of wrestling over support for the Ukraine war, which has been raging for almost eleven months. At the world economic summit in Davos and the meeting of the Ukraine contact group in Ramstein, a threatening winter offensive by Moscow was the focus.
But the week ended in differences and disappointment. The conservative Wall Street Journal commented that the tank issue provoked the “first rift within the Western alliance” since the Russian invasion.
In fact, the desire that Germany should lead the way in tank deliveries is being expressed more and more bluntly in the USA. “We believe there is a need for tanks in Ukraine,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, shortly after the Ramstein Contact Group concluded its meeting. The Leopard tanks are a “great system – very, very modern; very effective”. Addressing “Germany and all our allies and partners,” Kirby said, “If you can meet a need of Ukrainians, then of course we want to see action on it.”
At the same time, the USA does not want to provide its own American Abrams main battle tanks for the moment. Officially, this is justified with practical concerns. “Leopards can maneuver over large swathes of territory before needing to refuel. The effort and high cost that would be required to maintain an Abrams is immense. It just doesn’t make sense right now,” Defense Department spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said. Leopards, on the other hand, could be operational faster. According to estimates by the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, 2,000 leopards are spread across Europe.
German and American media had previously reported that Olaf Scholz (SPD) I put conditions on US President Biden. The federal government would therefore only deliver Leopard tanks if the USA provided Abrams-type main battle tanks. Both the White House and the federal government denied the reports – but did not explain what else would stand in the way of joint tank deliveries.
An old conflict breaks out again
Nobody in Washington assumes that this is a pure misunderstanding. The Germans had put the Americans “in an uncomfortable position,” CNN quoted a senior US government official as saying. Both Scholz and Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck had emphasized in Davos that Germany “did not want to go it alone” on the tank issue. The US government, on the other hand, does not want to be pressured. According to the responsible ministries, military aid is “a sovereign decision of each individual country”.
The USA and Germany are not that far apart in this matter. Together with Great Britain, Germany is the second largest donor of military aid to Ukraine. Since the outbreak of war, the US has approved over $27 billion in military aid, including combat vehicles, military trucks, mine-resistant vehicles and the Patriot missile defense system. And Germany gradually approved more and more heavy combat equipment.
Germany and the United States are part of a broad “coalition of the willing,” Kirby emphasized on Friday, despite the tank controversy. Both countries have also not ruled out future tank deliveries.
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The Biden government, as diplomats described it, remains benevolent and supportive of Berlin. However, the conflict that had been smoldering for years about more self-responsibility for Europe had been washed to the surface again.
“Germany disappoints again”
In the Biden administration, every new military delivery is seen as a balancing act. parts of US Republican, who have held the majority in the House of Representatives since January, are threatening to block further Ukraine funds. Also for tactical reasons, for example, the US does not want long-range missile systems deep in Russia can penetrate, send to the war country. Because that could drag the US and its allies into an immediate conflict with Putin. “They would Nato blow up,” Biden put it when he met with Zelenski at the White House before Christmas.
According to the broadcaster NBC, there are strategic concerns behind the American tank brake. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Major General Mark Milley, the broadcaster said, simply do not consider Western tanks to be crucial on the battlefield — at least not currently. Equipment with Stryker combat vehicles, for example, as just approved, are more effective in the rural terrain of the fronts. “We’re obsessed with tanks, but there are other options,” Kirby said.
Despite this, there are calls in the US for more concessions from Americans. Markus Esper, former Secretary of Defense in Donald Trump’s government, sees the United States as having a duty. “Send some US tanks if it takes to get Berlin to act,” he tweeted. “Germany disappoints again, but the West has no time to waste.”
Democrats made similar statements. “Scholz wants to be in step with the US,” Congressman Seth Moulton told CNN. “I think the US should give some tanks if that’s what Germany needs. That’s called leadership.” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal was also open to sending in military aircraft.