Euroviews. Germany's Olaf Scholz has become a major problem for Ukraine

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Copyright Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP
By Andrew NaughtieTamsin Paternoster
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Between leaked recordings, loose-lipped press conferences and confused policy, the German chancellor is in serious trouble.

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After months of what appeared to be an effective stalemate, a new narrative of the Ukrainian conflict is setting in: unless the West both expands and speeds up its support for the Ukrainian military, Russia could soon have a major window of opportunity.

And with the US House of Representatives still yet to clear a new package of American military aid, European NATO allies are moving to ramp up their contributions to the war effort. But not all of them are on the same page – and the continent's largest economy is suddenly looking like a major political and strategic problem for both Ukraine and NATO as a whole.

Germany has been on a long journey since the Russian invasion in February 2022. The then-relatively new government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz oversaw a major change in German defence policy by announcing the country would provide Ukraine with military hardware, a move that helped prove how seriously the West as a whole was taking the conflict.

Since then, however, the Germans' part in the war has been somewhat muddled. On the one hand, German Euros and materiel have been reaching Ukraine, albeit on a stop-start basis. The country's defence ministry clearly acknowledges the seriousness of the conflict: it has increasingly urged Europe to anticipate a larger Russian threat to countries beyond Ukraine, and is deploying combat-ready battalions to Lithuania, meaning German troops will be stationed just 100km away from the Russian border.

But on the other hand, Scholz's government has lately been resisting pressure to share one of its most powerful military assets with the Ukrainians just when they need it most. 

A Taurus missile flies during a military drill off the coast of South Korea.
A Taurus missile flies during a military drill off the coast of South Korea.AP/Copyright 2017 The AP. All rights reserved.

The item in question is the Taurus missile, a stealth missile with a 500km range – twice the range of the British Storm Shadow and French Scalp missiles, both of which have been used by Ukraine to hit major Russian military targets.

The Ukrainians have been asking for the Taurus system for months, but Scholz has so far refused. The chancellor has claimed that the missiles cannot be sent to Ukraine because it would entail putting German troops on the ground to programme them, a move that he claimed could threaten a dangerous escalation.

Scholz made a major diplomatic misstep at a recent summit when he implied that French and British forces are operating cruise missiles that are ostensibly under Ukrainian control – something neither country admits is happening. The head of the UK House of Commons's Foreign Affairs Committee called the remarks "wrong, irresponsible and a slap in the face to allies". 

But worse than Scholz's refusal to send Tauruses to Ukraine was the recent leak of a recording in which German air force officers could be heard directly contradicting Scholz's argument, instead confirming that the missile would not in fact require the deployment of German manpower inside Ukraine.

The recording was revealed in Russian media, with Moscow threatening "dire consequences" for Germany if Taurus is deployed in Ukraine.

Former president Dmitry Medvedev, who has voiced some of the Kremlin's most extreme rhetoric since the invasion, responded with a pair of nationalistic tirades in response via the messaging app Telegram, sharing a Second World War-era poem entitled "Kill Him!" and writing, "The call of the Great Patriotic War has become relevant again: "DEATH TO THE GERMAN-NAZI OCCUPIERS!"

Caught out

That such a sensitive conversation could be recorded and leaked at all, not least by the Russians, has horrified many in Germany and NATO more widely. But the revelation that Scholz's public pretext for withholding the Taurus is baseless has caused deep anger.

According to Benjamin Tallis, Senior Fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, the recording shows that the chancellor is not truly committed to a Ukrainian victory.

"Holding back like this risks a Ukrainian defeat, which would put all of Europe at great risk" he told Euronews. "Scholz's arguments have been dismantled one by one and revealed to be excuses. Allies have sent similar weapons and faced no retaliation. All Scholz is doing is projecting weakness and making Germany more of a target.

"Following the Taurus leak, it seems that what Scholz is really afraid of is the weapon's effectiveness. This betrays his position of not wanting Ukraine to win – and it's an approach that lets down all Europeans by making us less safe."

Olaf Scholz boards an Air Force plane at the military section of Berlin Brandenburg Airport.
Olaf Scholz boards an Air Force plane at the military section of Berlin Brandenburg Airport.Michael Kappeler/(c) Copyright 2024, dpa (www.dpa.de). Alle Rechte vorbehalten

The saga of the Taurus missile and the leaked recording comes at an extremely inopportune moment in the Ukrainian conflict.

Recent Russian advances in the east of the country have owed a lot to a shortage of ammunition on the Ukrainian side, which Kyiv and some of its allies have attributed to certain Western countries' slowness to resupply the war effort.

Aside from continuing to inflict major casualties on the Russian military – which Kyiv claims has lost well over 400,000 troops since February 2022 – the Ukrainian Armed Forces are currently focusing on destroying high-value military assets that the Russians will struggle to replace, among them a high-tech Russian patrol ship that was hit by a sea drone on 4 March.

These strikes have multiple benefits: aside from costing nothing in Ukrainian lives, they both undermine Russia's tactical abilities and challenge the idea that its enormous resources offer anything like a guarantee of victory. The same goes for missile and drone strikes within Russian territory, particularly in the border region of Belgorod, which Ukraine has targeted multiple times.

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But without enough Western hardware to continue these efforts, and with ever more reports of troops retreating from positions with depleted ammunition, Ukraine will struggle to keep its closest allies' hopes alive.

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