Three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz proclaimed the moment a Zeitenwende, or historic turning point, for his country and the world. Germany, he said on Feb. 27, would abandon decades of pacifism and close relations with Russia. Berlin would send weapons to Ukraine, create a special €100-billion defense fund, and wean itself from Russian energy imports. But Scholz has largely failed to live up to those promises. By July, Germany had only sent a few pieces of heavy artillery. Berlin told NATO countries in Eastern Europe that it would resupply them with modern weapons systems if they sent their Soviet-era equipment to Ukraine, but Scholz has since reneged on these pledges. Meanwhile, as energy prices were rising dramatically across Europe, his cabinet approved €200 billion in subsidies to lower utility costs for German consumers, without consulting its partners in the European Union. Berlin’s disagreements with France on Ukraine, arms deals, and energy are so extensive that the two countries postponed a major bilateral conference planned for October until January. In Berlin, in mid-October, Latvia’s defense minister asked, “Can we trust Germany?” What happened to the promise of the Zeitenwende?

Liana Fix is a fellow for Europe at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Germany’s Role in European Russia Policy. As Fix sees it, Scholz didn’t follow through on the big promises of the Zeitenwende largely because he’s afraid that the war might expand beyond Ukraine, and he doesn’t want Germany to contribute to escalating the conflict. This reluctance has damaged Berlin’s credibility among fellow EU members to the east and west. In the meantime, Fix says, the meaning of Zeitenwende has also changed since February. Scholz originally announced a transformation of German foreign policy, yet many inside and outside Germany now understand Zeitenwende as the goal of transforming the country from an economic power into a global political leader. And whether Scholz will be able to achieve this transformation remains highly uncertain.

Michael Bluhm: Other countries have complained that Germany wasn’t sending weapons quickly enough and that they weren’t sending their best weapons, particularly the Marder tank. But Scholz says that Germany is providing more support than anyone except the U.K. and U.S., which isn’t sending its most sophisticated tanks or weaponry, either. What’s going on here?

Liana Fix: There are two perspectives on Germany’s performance in Ukraine. The first sees how far Germany has come since before the war, when it wasn’t at all considering sending weapons to Ukraine. Germany said then that it didn’t export weapons to war zones. Now, the first German air-defense system has arrived in Ukraine, and so far, it’s been very successful in helping Ukrainians protect their cities and infrastructure.

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