We must, therefore, I think, in order to be pardoned for our faults, commit new ones; redoubling the mischief, and multiplying fires and robberies; and in doing this, endeavour to have as many companions as we can; for when many are in fault, few are punished; small crimes are chastised, but great and serious ones rewarded.
—Machiavelli, History of Florence, Book III
With the world spinning at its current break-neck speed, the events of only two weeks ago can seem as if they were from a different era. When Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki visited Olaf Scholz on February 26th, he commented on Germany’s decision to send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine, saying in German: “Das ist ein Witz. Das muss ein Witz sein!” (“That’s a joke. That must be a joke!”)
Since then, the German government—but especially the German media—has changed its tune. While most of Europe has promptly condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine, Germany has stuck to its tradition of ‘arriving late to the party’—but has made up for it by being more vigorous and intense than anybody else. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced Russia “will be ruined,” while Chancellor Scholz gave a speech in front of the Bundestag expressing full confidence that “this time we’re on the right side of history.” Soon afterwards, Germany started sending weapons to Ukraine.
But it didn’t stop there. The sanctions imposed against Russia also demonstrated Germany’s willingness to take a hit on its own economy, sacrificing its famous reliance on Russian gas—an economic relationship dating back to the times of the Soviet Union in the 1970s. The recently finished Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been shut down, Nord Stream 1 might follow soon and Russian gas prices have since soared.
On top of that, Germany has a very mixed relationship to national defence, which for a long time it preferred to outsource to NATO. Many commentators on the German Right, who have long demanded a bolstering of the national defence budget, are now delighted that there is finally some movement towards that. Following the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Germany suddenly allocated an additional 100 billion Euros to national defence. At first sight, that is a tremendous amount—until one realizes that it is only about twice the annual defence budget, tempering expectations of what such a singular investment could achieve. Compared to the Russian budget, which clocks in at around 80 billion Euros, it becomes evident that the dismal state of the German Bundeswehr is not primarily a financial matter, but one of mismanagement.
It is not only Germany. Many European countries have now been reminded of having neglected their defence spending. And while it is commendable that Europe strives to become independent of U.S. support for its defence, the tense situation with Russia seems to require diplomatic steps, rather than chest thumping. As the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a recent interview: “In a war, words are halfway towards deeds.”
This is a warning that most of the German media seems uninterested in heeding. Instead BILD featured on March 2nd the headline, “We against Putin!” as if it was Germany that had been invaded by Russia, not Ukraine. But the same front page offered another, smaller headline, that pointed to what might be the driving force behind Germany’s apparent willingness to consider open conflict with Russia: “Heating, Petrol, Bread-Prices: How expensive our lives are becoming because of Moscow’s War.”
In an amazing reinterpretation of Germany’s failed energy politics, Putin has suddenly become the scapegoat for rising energy prices. But this conveniently neglects the latest report by the German Federal Statistical Office (as The European Conservative previously reported), showing a steep increase in energy prices already prior to the war in Ukraine, with gas prices rising by more than 300% over the last year and electricity by more than 200% over the same period. The German electricity grid is currently extremely volatile, too, with energy providers warning that a blackout might be imminent (as we also reported).
All of these problems are home-made but had long been swept under the rug by most media outlets—that is, until the sanctions against Russia allowed them to spin the story so that they could blame Russia directly.
Emergency plans for avoiding blackouts include turning off electricity in entire sections of densely populated areas. But now German citizens get to practice this situation with a spin:: on March 2nd citizens were asked to switch off their lights at 8pm to “show Putin, that Europe prefers to sit in the dark, than to buy his gas and oil,” as the ZDF studio in Westphalia put it on their Twitter account. The public TV station, however, couldn’t resist checking on taxpayers, so they decided to film residential areas in Cologne to point out that some lights weren’t switched off at the designated time. The ZDF ‘wondered’ whether people didn’t know about the voluntary protest. It is comforting to know that apparently, everything is in place to switch to dystopia in a heartbeat.
Germans love moral grandstanding out of the desire to presumably overcome their dark past. German radio Deutschlandfunk shared a message from a Ukrainian asking Germans to “stop what is going on here and thus redeem the sins of their parents and grandparents.” Some seem to have a plan already on how this could be achieved: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of the Axel Springer media group and lobbyist, published a column in BILD on March 4th, in which he demanded no less than that “NATO must act NOW.” His reasoning was simple: if Putin conquers Kyiv because the West didn’t act, it will leave the West weakened. If the West is weakened, China will annex Taiwan. If Taiwan is annexed without resistance, the West will be politically finished. What followed is nothing less than a direct call for entering the war:
That’s why NATO-members must act NOW. They must move their troops and weapons NOW to where our values and our future is STILL being defended. If need be, without NATO.
He did admit, though, that it’s “a terrible dilemma,” for if “this happens and doesn’t succeed quickly,” an “escalation to World War III” is possible. A price Döpfner would be willing to pay, as he concludes that “freedom would otherwise be just a phrase” and the “transatlantic alliance but a footnote,” “democracy obsolete.”
Luckily the German government isn’t ready for war, yet. The Green party likes to adorn itself with an aura of pacifism, but one shouldn’t forget that it was during the first Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer that German troops for the first time after the Second World War took part in warfare on European soil when participating in the war in Kosovo .
Meanwhile the media campaign keeps beating the drums of war. Julian Reichelt, former editor-in-chief of BILD already suggested that we may have to expel all Russians from the EU. Katarina Barley, German Member of the European Parliament, has taken it upon herself to chastise Viktor Orbán for remaining too diplomatic towards Russia. In the meanwhile, the rage has reached other sectors of public life. As reported by The European Conservative, Russians are being beaten up in the streets, Russian shops are being vandalized, and a private hospital in Munich even refused to treat Russians before apologizing for this decision.
The pent up furor of a society that has spent much of the past two years locked away, has moved on from being released at the unvaccinated to those that try to avoid escalation in what is—up until now—still a regional conflict. “Defeatist” is quickly becoming a swear word again, all the while the media keeps reminding Germans of how much of their money Putin is still receiving.
While Germany flirts dangerously with gearing up for war, Poland, who in turn has its own vested interests in Ukraine, has focused on delivering humanitarian aid to almost 2 million Ukrainian refugees instead. Paweł Soloch, head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, refuted rumors about Poland delivering its own fighter jets to Ukraine and receiving F-16 fighters instead from the United States, warning against “the potential escalation of the conflict towards a world conflict.” In a strategic move, however, Poland suggested donating its MiG-29 jets to the United States instead, allowing for the U.S. to deliver the planes to Ukraine instead. But the Pentagon decided not to proceed with this deal, calling it not “tenable” because of the risk of open conflict between NATO and Russia. A decision that Warsaw will have noticed carefully, given the fact that the U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had previously expressed support for the idea of Poland delivering the very same planes to Ukraine. With the willingness of the United States to get other countries entangled in this conflict, Poland must watch not only its transatlantic partners carefully, but also the developments in Germany, since it knows full well of what to expect when the Furor teutonicus, the teutonic fury is awakened.
May the tide turn soon again, for we do not know how long the German government will be able to resist the temptation of war to explain away the incoming self-made economic collapse. Let us not allow Europe to go out in a blaze of fury.