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What It Means for Germany to Agree to Give Leopard Tanks to Ukraine?

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Starting on February 24, 2022, the Russian-Ukrainian War opened up the debate on Germany’s approach to the war. In this sense, it can be stated that the Berlin administration has been subjected to serious criticism due to its relations with Moscow. This is because Germany is particularly criticized for its energy dependence on Russia. Because the most critical outcome of the war was the energy crisis faced by Continental Europe and the European Union (EU) countries could not reach the desired result in terms of diversifying their energy suppliers.

Although energy is the main reason why the Berlin administration turned to close cooperation with Moscow after the Cold War, it can be said that Germany has two more goals. First of all, Germany thought that creating a mutual dependency relationship by including Russia in the European security architecture would prevent developments that would threaten the security of Continental Europe. However, the Russia-Ukraine War has clearly shown that this is not the case. Moreover, the formation of a one-sided dependency relationship in energy has come to light and EU countries have faced a heavy bill.

Secondly, Germany has been uncomfortable with the unipolar world order, even though it is positioned as part of the Western alliance led by the United States of America (USA) as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In this sense, Germany, together with France, has tried to become an alternative to the US-UK centered West and has tended to position the EU as a pole in a world evolving towards multipolarity. Especially during the term of former US President Donald Trump, the Washington administration’s demand for burden-sharing from EU countries for the protection of Continental Europe by opening the defense expenditures of NATO countries to discussion has accelerated the discussion of the EU Army idea by actors such as Germany and France.

The situation in question represented the effort of the Berlin administration to position Europe as a pole in the multipolar world, led together with Paris. Russia is at the forefront of the actors voicing the demand for multipolarity. This led to the emergence of a positive relationship on the Berlin-Moscow line. However, the Russia-Ukraine War also dealt a serious blow to the search for multipolarity.

As can be understood, for all these reasons, Germany developed positive relations with Russia after the Cold War. However, the war in Ukraine revived the traditional “other” perception of EU countries and reinforced the leadership of the USA in terms of anti-Russian policies. As a matter of fact, the Washington administration uses the war for two purposes. The first of these is the termination of the dependency relationship between Europe in general and Germany and Russia in particular. The second is securing the European pillar of American hegemony; that is, the reinforcement of hegemonic leadership. In this sense, the sanctions targeting the Moscow administration are very important. Because the sanctions showed that the Western states were able to take a monolithic stance despite some cracked voices. Moreover, the West has shown serious solidarity in humanitarian, financial and military aid to Ukraine as well as sanctions.

Although the developments led to Russia’s isolation from the international community, the prolongation of the war brought the differences within the West back to the agenda over time. Actors such as Germany and France support mediation processes and want a ceasefire as soon as possible. On the other hand, the US and the UK are in favor of prolonging the war in Ukraine. Because the prolongation of these conflicts, which have turned into a war of attrition, deepens the anti-Russian stance of continental Europe on the one hand, and on the other hand, it prepares the ground for the formation of an environment in which Russia, which represents the search for multipolarity and acts with the claim of being a “great power” in this context, will be forced to accept that it is a “medium-sized state”. Therefore, despite all the sense of unity, there is a serious difference in the perception of Russia in the West.

In fact, this difference is closely related to the question of how the European security architecture will be shaped after the war. Understandably, Berlin wants the war to end as soon as possible and to cooperate with Moscow in various fields, particularly energy. Washington, on the other hand, wants to prolong the war, wear out Russia, increase Europe’s dependence on the US and keep Moscow administration out of the European security architecture even after the war. This difference is also reflected in the aid to Ukraine.

While the United States has been at the forefront by both pushing its own means and mobilizing the international community to ensure the survival of the Kiev regime, Berlin has been trying to provide more symbolic aid. As it will be remembered, Germany offered to send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine at the beginning of the war; Ukrainian officials interpreted this offer as a “joke” and reacted harshly to Berlin.[1]

Although Germany acted together with Western actors by helping Ukraine throughout the war, Berlin refrained from sending weapons that would prolong the war and change the outcome of the conflicts in terms of military aid. In other words, Germany refrained from taking steps that would provoke Russia’s reaction. For this reason, after the recent increase in military aid to Ukraine, the USA and Poland pressured Germany to send Leopard tanks to the country. In other words, German-Russian relations have become a target.

The aim of this pressure can be characterized as the complete detachment of Germany from Russia. There is no doubt that after the sabotage of the Nord Stream I-II natural gas pipelines, it is already difficult for Berlin to re-establish relations with Moscow. The Leopard tanks issue, on the other hand, will cause a much more severe damage to the ties between Berlin and Moscow. Indeed, the aim of Washington and Warsaw is to drag these relations to an irreparable point.

Although the Berlin administration resisted the request for a long time, on January 24, 2023, it announced that it agreed to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine.[2] Of course, this is very important as it shows that Germany had to make a choice and that it chose to cooperate with the USA.

As a result, the Russia-Ukraine War consolidated the hegemony of the USA over Europe and greatly limited the EU’s desire to position itself as a pole in a multipolar world. In this context, Germany, one of the leading actors in continental Europe advocating cooperation with Russia, had to face the fact that cooperation with Russia was no longer sustainable due to the explosions on the Nord Stream I-II natural gas pipelines, while on the other hand, it had to take steps that would draw Moscow’s reaction by agreeing to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine. Undoubtedly, this situation can be interpreted as a result of US pressure. Therefore, the process reveals that the USA got the result it wanted from Germany, which it forced to make a choice.


[1] “Almanya Ukrayna’ya ‘5 Bin Miğfer Göndereceğiz’ Dedi, Kiev Belediye Başkanı ‘Şaka’ Olarak Tanımladı”, Euronews, https://tr.euronews.com/2022/01/26/almanya-ukrayna-ya-5-bin-migfer-gonderecegiz-dedi-kiev-belediye-baskan-saka-olarak-tan-mla, (Date of Accession: 25.01.2023).

[2] “US and Germany Ready to Send Tanks to Ukraine-Reports”, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64391272, (Date of Accession: 25.01.2023).

Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN
Dr. Doğacan BAŞARAN, 2014 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Yüksek lisans derecesini, 2017 yılında Giresun Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda sunduğu ‘’Uluslararası Güç İlişkileri Bağlamında İkinci Dünya Savaşı Sonrası Hegemonik Mücadelelerin İncelenmesi’’ başlıklı teziyle almıştır. Doktora derecesini ise 2021 yılında Trakya Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı‘nda hazırladığı “İmparatorluk Düşüncesinin İran Dış Politikasına Yansımaları ve Milliyetçilik” başlıklı teziyle alan Başaran’ın başlıca çalışma alanları Uluslararası ilişkiler kuramları, Amerikan dış politikası, İran araştırmaları ve Afganistan çalışmalarıdır. Başaran iyi derecede İngilizce ve temel düzeyde Farsça bilmektedir.