One would be hard-pressed to see any discussion about Germany in Ukraine-related forums and discussions without hearing people rip the country apart. “They are Putin’s best friends!” “When will they deliver this aid, 2025?” “We can’t trust anything they say!”
While Germany was certainly late in providing significant support, they have gradually evolved into being Ukraine’s strongest European partner while weaning themselves off Russian gas in record time. In fact, their efforts have lacked in just two areas: providing leadership (they happily follow), and public relations to sell their contributions.
Check out this chart of total aid commitments as of late November, including military and humanitarian aid as well as direct financial support to the Ukrainian government:
Germany has committed nearly double the aid of the next two countries, France and the United Kingdom. This is what it looks like accounting for just military aid:
If it looks like the U.S. is overly represented in terms of military aid, that’s what being the world’s policeman has wrought. Europe conveniently outsourced their defense to the U.S., leaving themselves lacking much military gear to offer. As one popular meme jokes, “Russia is about to find out why America doesn’t have universal health care.” It’s funny, but it hurts. We’ll be better off in the long term if Europe takes responsibility for their own security. They can afford it. But that’s an argument for another time.
Despite the bare cupboards, Germany has provided more direct weapons deliveries than any other country except ours. Critics will point to GDP, saying that Germany’s contributions lag in comparison to, say, Poland, or the Baltic nations. And it’s true!
If you want to see the rest of the list click here, but Germany clocks in at only 0.33% of GDP compared to Estonia’s 1.3%, or Poland’s 0.7%. And yes, that’s a convenient way to attempt to shame larger nations intro contributing more. But in the end, what matters to Ukraine isn’t Estonia’s share of its GDP ($37.19 billion), as laudable as that is. (Germany’s GDP is $4.26 trillion, that of the U.S. is $23.3 trillion.) What matters to Ukraine is cold, hard cash, and the military hardware it needs to wage its defense.
And on that front, Germany has delivered. Click on that link for the extensive list. Germany hasn’t just delivered critical hardware, it has also “backfilled” Eastern European countries’ armories, allowing them to send Ukraine their Soviet-era gear in exchange for German kit. That was particularly important in the earlier phases of the war when Ukraine didn’t have the logistical and sustainment capabilities to operate Western gear. Countries like Poland and Slovakia have gotten the public relations credit for the weapons deliveries (like T-72 tanks), but they only did so because Germany replaced those weapons with modern NATO gear. It’s easy to be generous when someone else is footing the bill.
Ukrainians have been particularly thrilled with two German weapons systems: the Gepard (cheetah) anti-aircraft system, which has been exceptionally effective against Russian and Iranian suicide drones, and the PzH 2000 self-propelled artillery gun, considered among the best in the world. The Gepard has been so effective that Germany is rebuilding several near-scrapped vehicles and is trying to buy back units sold to Brazil and Qatar to gift to Ukraine. When Switzerland refused to authorize the transfer of Swiss-made ammunition to Ukraine from German stocks, Germany worked with a manufacturer in Norway to start a new production line as well as buying excess ammo from Brazil. (Germany is so furious at Switzerland’s obstruction, in fact, that it has threatened to stop all defense cooperation and procurement with the Swiss.)
On top of that, Germany is joining the United States in sending Ukraine a $1.1 billion Patriot anti-missile battery. This stuff ain’t cheap, and Germany is stepping up.
Meanwhile, Germany helped win Europe’s energy war against Russia. It seems funny now, but Putin and his supporters were convinced this summer that Europe would freeze this winter as Russia cut off shipments of gas and oil to Ukrainian-backing European nations (which is most of them). Putin wagered that cold Europeans would become restless, putting political pressure on their leaders to abandon Ukraine in favor of Russian fossil fuels. At the time polls showed that Europeans weren’t keen to cave to such blackmail, but it was easy to stand firm in the warmer summer and mild autumn. Would public sentiment shift as the weather turned bitter cold and higher energy prices fueled inflation on the continent? Putin wagered he’d come out ahead.
This thread has great charts on the state of European energy supplies. In short, Putin was wrong. Natural gas storage levels are rising, prices are lower now than before the Nordstream gas pipeline between Russia and German was shut, and the Russian ruble is finally caving as those lower (global) prices take a toll on the Russian economy.
None of that is possible without Germany getting its shit together since it was Russia’s best client, almost entirely reliant on Russian fossil fuels. “More gas is being injected into storage than withdrawn from it,” reported the German government. “The total storage level in Germany is 90.72%. The storage level at the Rehden facility is 90.33%.” A warmer winter has helped for sure, but delaying the shutdown of several nuclear reactors slated for closure was a big factor, as well as cutting through Germany’s fabled bureaucratic red tape to build its first liquid natural gas terminal in a matter of months instead of the usual years.
Germany just received its first shipment at the terminal … with natural gas from Louisiana. Just as importantly, Germany sees this as a short-term solution as it helps drive the European Union toward greater reliance on renewable energy sources. No one is happy that the continent is more reliant on fossil fuels, but better it use American, Norwegian, and African natural gas for now.
This has become yet another Putin miscalculation among many. Shut out of the lucrative European market, it has been forced to sell its products at a steep discount to India and China.
Russian petroleum is trading at half the price of Brent—Atlantic basin oil that sets the price for two-thirds of the world’s supply. That’s great for India and China, which are happy to profit off Russia’s misery, but it’s a nightmare for Russia.
Russia’s budget deficit could be wider than a planned 2% of GDP in 2023 as an oil price cap squeezes export income, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said, an extra fiscal hurdle for Moscow as it spends heavily on its military activities in Ukraine.
His comments represented Moscow’s clearest acknowledgement yet that the $60 per barrel cap, imposed on Dec. 5 by the Group of Seven, European Union and Australia with the aim of limiting Russia’s ability to fund the military campaign, could indeed hit state finances.
Along with the economic challenges, Russia announced that lack of demand might force it to cut oil production another 5-7%. Meanwhile, China’s current economic troubles should further depress demand. Rather than freeze Europe and cause economic mayhem, it is Russia that is facing serious challenges. This isn’t all Germany’s doing, of course, but as the largest economy in Europe and the nation most reliant on Russian fossil fuels, its ability to wean itself off those products in record time has had an outsized role in these outcomes.
People are rightfully frustrated at Germany’s refusal to lead during this crisis. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz kept talking to Putin way after it was obvious that doing so was futile (along with French President Emmanuel Macron). Also, like Macron, Scholz believes it’s imperative that Europe not punish Russia after the war ends, to Eastern Europe’s endless frustration. And Germany certainly won’t be the first to escalate military capabilities for Ukraine, deferring to the United States on M270 MLRS rocket artillery and to the U.S. and France on infantry fighting vehicles. Now as Ukraine desperately pleads for Western armor, a coalition of nations (Poland, Finland, and Denmark) is looking to Germany for the green light to send German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks. Germany isn’t rushing to approve. It wants others to go first.
As frustrating as that it given current circumstances, such timidity stems from Germany’s very real guilt over World War II and a genuine fear that a remilitarized Germany could someday once again threaten its neighbors. As such, it would very much rather support everyone else’s decisions than ever be accused of using its economic might (and to a much lesser extent, its currently depleted military) to threaten anyone else. While Germany’s far right is currently a fringe movement, we’ve seen such parties elsewhere in Europe tap into anti-immigrant fervor to build popular support. Nothing says Germany is immune from such demagoguery.
As such, Germany isn’t just afraid to step ahead of the European and allied consensus, but it is almost embarrassed to tout its Ukrainian aid. As a result, few are aware of just how substantial Germany’s contributions have been and how remarkable they are given their historical aversion to military engagement. Germany won’t have any problem enthusiastically helping Ukraine rebuild after the war. It’s the military side that makes it nervous.
Can Germany do more? Of course. Everyone can. The United States’ refusal to send long-range ATACMS rockets is beyond frustrating, as has been the long delay in sending Bradleys infantry fighting vehicles. But Germany is doing a great deal. And if it can green-light delivers of Leopard 2s to Ukraine (perhaps at the Jan. 20 Ramstein meeting of Ukraine’s allies), that will go a long way toward assuaging the last lingering doubts about Germany’s commitment.
But if nothing else, it’s time to retire the eye-rolling and cynicism German suffers when discussing Ukrainian support. They are a key Ukrainian ally and have done more than anyone for Ukraine than anyone else besides the United States.