Politicians and commentators in Berlin were dismayed by remarks by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s foreign policy adviser, who said the media should focus more on Germany’s future relations with Russia than on supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons.
Jens Plötner is dealing with much of the media and opposition accusations that the German government has been hesitant to support Ukraine and has been much slower to supply it with heavy weapons than the United States, Britain and France.
He told a debate at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) that discussions about helping Ukraine were driven by “a frenzy to ignore major issues”.
“You can fill a lot of newspapers with 20 Marders [a kind of infantry fighting vehicle that Kyiv has requested from Germany]but somehow there is less and less writing about what our future relationship with Russia should look like,” he said.
“It’s at least an exciting and relevant issue that we can discuss,” he added.
The remarks drew an angry response from prominent Liberal Democrat MP Mary-Agnes Strucker-Zimmerman, one of three parties in Schultz’s ruling coalition.
Strack-Zimmermann, chairman of the Bundestag’s defence committee, said Plottner’s comments “revealed the way of thinking that has brought us into this dire situation over the past few decades”. “This is not the time to think deeply about Russia, but to help Ukraine,” she added.
Plötner, who rarely speaks in public, drew rare attention to the way Scholz and his team viewed the war in Ukraine. Despite alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops in towns such as Butcha and destruction of Ukrainian cities by Russian planes and artillery, Schultz has come under fire from his eastern European friends for maintaining phone contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the DGAP event, Plotner insisted that Germany supported Ukraine “to a great extent” politically, economically and militarily. He spoke just hours before Ukraine announced it was taking delivery of some PzH 2000 armored howitzers, the first heavy weapons Germany has supplied to Kyiv in the conflict. The PzH is the most modern artillery piece of the Bundeswehr and can hit targets up to 40 km away.
But Plotner also talked about Ukraine may join the EUwhich will be discussed at an EU summit later this week, and the Kyiv government may find unwelcome.
“Just because you’re under attack doesn’t automatically mean your rule of law is improving,” he said. “The problems Ukrainians are suffering from are structural, they are still there and must be dealt with.”
“Plotner’s message worries the Ukrainian people, Germany’s partners in Eastern Europe and many of its closest allies around the world, including the United States,” said Noah Barkin, an expert at the German Marshall Fund, an American think tank.
He said the comments raised questions about whether Scholz’s team “learned the right lessons from Putin’s war.” “Can people who have been in close contact with Moscow and Beijing over the years turn to a foreign policy vision suited to the challenges of this new era of systemic competition?” he asked.
Georg Löfflmann, assistant professor of war studies at the University of Warwick, said that Plötner symbolized ” Eastern Politics, The economic engagement and military silence that have defined German foreign policy for decades”.