Opinion | Germany’s Chancellor Promised to Deter Putin. Then He Did Nothing.


It’s a concern all allies of Ukraine share, of course. But only Germany seems to have been transfixed by it. Yet the reason for the government’s reluctance to furnish Ukraine with the support it needs is perhaps less high-minded, and closer to home. Mr. Scholz’s Social Democratic Party, at the head of the ruling coalition, has a long history of conciliatory relations with Russia. As the weeks wore on, it became clear it was this historic entanglement — and the habits it set — that underpinned Mr. Scholz’s hesitancy.

Gerhard Schröder, the former chancellor and leader of the Social Democrats who was until recently on the payroll of Rosneft, a Russian oil company, exemplifies the entanglement. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Many older Social Democratic lawmakers, reared in a peace movement that sought a route out of Cold War hostilities, tend to go easy on Russia. The younger generation, which caviled at the prospect of canceling the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia and was generally reluctant to punish Moscow, is not much more cleareyed.

It’s unfortunate that when Russia is waging war against Ukraine, the German chancellor belongs to the political party that has the most complicated relationship with Russia. The two other parties in the coalition, the Free Democrats and the Greens, have no such problems. In the case of the Green Party, that’s particularly noteworthy. Rooted like the Social Democrats in the pacifist antiwar movement, the Greens have learned, not least through the devastating war in the former Yugoslavia, that peace cannot always be acquired through peaceful means. Its uncompromising stance on Russia, approved by the majority of Green voters, is the result of hard-won wisdom.

It’s what the public seems to want, too. The party’s leaders, Anna Baerbock and Robert Habeck, have been especially vocal in favor of sanctions and the provision of weapons, and are, according to a recent survey, the country’s most popular politicians. Despite anxiety about nuclear conflict and fears for the health of the economy, many Germans seem to support a clear rejection of Mr. Putin’s actions. Even as the financial toll of the war affects people’s everyday lives, Germans appear to want moral guidance from their leaders and are prepared to make sacrifices in the name of what is right. Yet Mr. Scholz, constrained by his party and his instincts, has little to offer them.



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