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The Price Putin Pays
Germans Shift Defense Posture Against Russia

Is Vladimir Putin starting to pay a strategic price for his aggression in Ukraine? Germany, Europe’s leading power, which until recently has been fairly even-handed vis-à-vis Russia, is realigning its defense posture to take account of Russian aggression. Defense Minister Ursula van der Leyen, widely thought of as Chancellor Merkel’s heir apparent, has announced a strategy shift that will be detailed more fully in a “white book” to be released next year. Reuters reports:

Germany’s new policy must take account of the Kremlin’s attempt “to establish geo-strategic power politics and military force as a form of asserting their interests”, said von der Leyen.

“The Kremlin’s new policy began long before the crisis in Ukraine and will occupy us for a very very long time to come,” she added.

The new strategy would mean the German army would in future focus not only on missions far afield, for example in Afghanistan, but also become more involved in strengthening NATO’s defenses. Germany is already helping to boost NATO’s presence in eastern Europe.

In the short term, this is not likely to do much to deter Putin. Germany’s military is much weaker than it should be, given the heft it wields in other arenas, though Ms. van der Leyen has been struggling to persuade her parliamentary colleagues to improve it.

But Germany is only growing in strategic importance within Europe; as goes Berlin so increasingly go NATO and the EU. If Germany is earnest about refocusing on defending Eastern Europe, that is a serious setback for Russia in the medium to long term.

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  • wigwag

    To paraphrase Bismark (who was taking about the British army), if the German army moved east, Putin would send the Serbian police force to arrest it.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Let us hope that Putin would enjoy that experience as much as the Germans did…

      • bannedforselfcensorship

        Bismark did pretty well, though.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Actually he didn’t. He managed to completely underestimate the Kaiser’s determination to rule directly, and was unceremoniously dumped for his troubles. The Kaiser led a disastrous confrontation of Britain which led to WWI, where the British Army demonstrated the emptiness of Bismark’s observation. Bismark’s power, his goals, and his dreams for Germany were all lost, and worse still, at the behest of someone he considered a immature fool.

          • Alex K.

            “…someone he considered a immature fool,” correctly, unfortunately.

            Still, the British army alone would have been powerless against Germany. What’s harder to account for is how Germany ignored Britain’s coalition-building ability.

          • Tom

            They remembered, I think, that they were always a critical part of Britain’s coalition-building, and assumed that the British would be unable to engage in a rapprochement with France after close to 600 years of on-again, off-again warfare, despite the Franco-British coalition that fought the Crimean War (Yes, Turkey and Piedmont-Sardinia were involved. No, neither did much fighting.)

          • Alex K.

            You would think that Germany had at least ten years to realize that the alliance was possible, starting from 1904, when the Entente was first signed, to 1914.

            Turkey actually did some fighting at the early stage of the Crimean War, before Britain and France got involved, and its poor performance against Russia, specifically Turkey’s naval defeat at Sinop, triggered the Franco-British offensive. Also in 1855, Turkish troops repelled a Russian attempt to retake Eupatoria.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The Entente was never really a ‘sure-thing’, and the Germans repeatedly assured anyone who would listen that they didn’t believe that Britain would actually come to France’s aid. For what it is worth, there were a very large number of Frenchmen who believed this as well.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Tom’s reply really says it all. I presume that Bismark was convinced that it was Germany that was the lynchpin in any British effort at coalition-building, and that in a war against Germany, they would have only a scattered group of weak partners who wouldn’t be able to stand. The idea that Britain and France could put aside their age-old animosity and work in harness was antithetical to everything that he knew, and in any event, I suspect that he overestimated Germany’s diplomatic reach and their ability to interfere with this process.

          • Alex K.

            I agree it’s easier for us to look at things in a reverse perspective and recognize Britain’s exceptional flexibility in picking allies. Russia was not its natural and old-time friend either, going back to the Seven-Year War and the Continental Blockade.

  • adk

    “But Germany is only growing in strategic importance within Europe…”

    Here’s Washington Post (not The Onion!) reporting:

    Germany’s army is so under-equipped that it used broomsticks instead of machine guns

    The German army has faced a shortage of equipment for years, but the situation has recently become so precarious that some soldiers took matters into their own hands.

    On Tuesday, German broadcaster ARD revealed that German soldiers tried to hide the lack of arms by replacing heavy machine guns with broomsticks during a NATO exercise last year. After painting the wooden sticks black, the German soldiers swiftly attached them to the top of armored vehicles, according to a confidential army report which was leaked to ARD.

    A defense ministry spokesperson said the use of broomsticks was not a common practice, and that the decision of the involved soldiers was “hard to comprehend.”

    To make matters worse, the broom-equipped German soldiers belong to a crucial, joint NATO task force and would be the first to be deployed in case of an attack.

    The central European country was the world’s third-largest arms exporter in 2013, but when it comes to Germany’s own defense politicians have been unwilling to invest. In 2013, Germany spent only 1.3 percent of its GDP on defense — a ratio which was below the average spending of the European members of NATO.

    According to the confidential report that was leaked on Tuesday, the German NATO task force would face serious problems if it had to intervene abroad. More than 40 percent of the task force’s soldiers would have to do without P8 pistols, and more than 30 percent lacked general-purpose machine guns, known as MG3. Operating at night would be particularly difficult for Germany’s armed task force, given a lack of 76 percent of necessary night viewers.

    Germany’s continuous equipment problems hardly match von der Leyen’s public rhetoric. On Tuesday, she announced that Germany would overhaul its security strategy and become more active internationally and in eastern Europe in the coming years.

    • Angel Martin

      i keep looking at the map of the Russian Empire in July of 1914, and wondering how much of it Putin will be able to reconquer.

  • Corlyss

    What are they using for weapons?

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