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German caution against arms sales to Ukraine is rooted in energy and history

BERLIN (AP), -- Germany's refusal of joining NATO members to provide weapons to Ukraine has upset some allies and raised doubts about Berlin's determination to stand up to Russia.

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German caution against arms sales to Ukraine is rooted in energy and history

This issue was brought up by a report that Berlin had blocked Estonia from supplying German howitzers to Kyiv in order to defend itself against Russian troops en masse near the Ukrainian border.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister, stated on Twitter that Germany's position on arms supplies "does not correspond to the level and security situation of our relations."

Monday's Berlin press conference saw Olaf Scholz, German Chancellor, deny that a decision was made regarding the howitzers. He said that his country stood with NATO and European Union allies against any Russian invasion into Ukraine.

He said to reporters, "Should such a situation occur, we would jointly act." "There would have to be a very high price."

While Germany will continue to help Ukraine, he stated that one exception would be made: "We don’t provide any lethal arms."

Some Germans are worried that Germany may no longer be considered a reliable partner because of this stance. It was criticized in Kyiv, and less so in London and Washington.

"How many Berliners are aware of how our confusing Ukraine policy harms not only (Germany), but also the whole EU?" asked Wolfgang Ischinger. He is the former German ambassador to the United States, and the head of the annual Munich Security Conference.

Experts believe that Germany's current position is partially due to its terrible history of aggression in the 20th century.

"There is the obvious legacy of Germany's militarization of Europe during the two world wars, which has led many German leaders see any military response only as a last resort," Rachel Ellehuus (deputy director, Europe, Russia and Eurasia) at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

She said that this attitude could backfire. "The current government doesn't seem to understand that sending defensive weapons in Ukraine could actually deter Russian aggression."

While Germany has cited its past restrictive position on arms exports from conflict zones, analysts claim that the rule has not always been applied.

Sabine Fischer, a top Russia expert at The German Institute for International and Security Affairs, stated that there have been "always been borderline cases" in these areas, including the Kosovo war and support for the Kurds to defeat IS in Syria.

After being criticized at home and abroad for remarks he made about Russia and Ukraine, the German Navy's head resigned. At an Indian event, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach stated that it was crucial to have Russia on the side against China. He also suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved respect.

Scholz's Social Democrats, rooted in Willy Brandt's Cold War rapprochement legacy, and the Greens, rooted in a tradition pacifism would be opposed to the idea of arms supplying a non-NATO nation in a conflict between Russia and NATO. It might be possible to compromise by allowing Estonia to transfer the 122-mm D-30 howitzers, which were Soviet-designed, to Ukraine.

Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister, stated that Berlin views Russia's actions with suspicion, leaving aside any concerns about arms exports to Ukraine.

"In the last weeks, more than 100,000 Russian soldiers with tanks and guns have gathered in Ukraine for no apparent reason. It's difficult not to see this as a threat," she stated during a recent Moscow visit.

Baerbock spoke alongside her Russian counterpart, whom she called "dear friend" and acknowledged the "sufferings and destruction that the Germans caused to the peoples of Soviet Union" during Nazi times. However, she warned that Germany is prepared to take tough measures if Russia does something against Ukraine.

This includes putting into question the future Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is meant to transport much-needed natural gas from Russia and Germany.

Germany would also be paying a steep price if it made such a move against its largest energy supplier.

According to Georg Zachmann, a senior fellow of the Bruegel economic think-tank in Brussels, Germany will increase its dependence on gas until there is enough renewable energy. This is because it plans to shut down its three last nuclear power plants and eliminate coal use by 2030.

German officials think that Russia's large customer base can help them gain leverage. Moscow doesn't want to lose its reputation for being reliable suppliers of gas over the decades.

Baerbock spoke Monday at a meeting in Brussels of EU foreign ministers. He stated that the German government's priority was to deescalate Ukraine's situation, to dampen allies' calls to support Kyiv, and to impose swift new sanctions on Moscow.

Fischer stated that Berlin will need to respond to the criticisms coming from Washington, Ukraine and other European countries. "At the very same time, Germany continues to be an important player in negotiations surrounding the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict and, I predict that, will continue supporting sanctions and other measures in future."

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