By Samuel Goldman, The Week
The Biden administration is unwilling to fight for Ukraine. Berlin must choose its course.
Germany has long had a Russia problem.
Even before their unification under the Hohenzollerns in 1870, German principalities struggled to deal with their giant neighbor to the east. In 1863, at the beginning of his long stint in power, the legendary statesman Otto von Bismarck quipped, “The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Russia.” But despite interludes of stability, Germany hasn’t quite figured out how to make its agreements, both formal and informal, stick.
Now, time may be running out. In his inaugural address to the Bundestag on Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz took up the Russian problem once again. Faced with a buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border, Scholz warned invasion would come at a “high price.” Yet he welcomed “constructive dialogue,” and, echoing statements from his campaign, called for a “new Ostpolitik,” an allusion to the rapprochement between West Germany and the communist East.
Yet even if Scholz’s plan succeeds in calming the present crisis, the absence of a coherent overall policy makes another one inevitable. Germany may hope to muddle through, neither conceding the former Soviet sphere of influence to Russia nor imposing painful economic and perhaps military consequences. But Putin’s ambitions won’t let them avoid the choice forever.