Editor’s Note: Rafael Loss is an expert on European security and defense policy at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He is based in Berlin. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
In the week since Russian missiles began raining down on Ukraine, Germany has upturned its decadeslong military-light foreign policy, heralding a dramatic shift in the complexion of modern Europe.
“Putin’s war” represented nothing less than a “Zeitenwende” – a change of times – for Germany and Europe, German chancellor Olaf Scholz told a special session of the Bundestag Sunday.
In a country where “many of us still remember our parents’ or grandparents’ tales of war,” Scholz said the “terrible images” coming out of cities across Ukraine “affect us all very deeply.”
At the same time, tens of thousands of Germans gathered near the Brandenburg Gate at the weekend to condemn the Kremlin’s act of aggression, one of many such protests across the globe.
And so, after weeks of widespread criticism of his government’s timid response to Russian aggression, Scholz announced what amounted to a complete overhaul of Germany’s foreign, security and defense policy; supplying weapons to Ukraine and pumping billions of dollars into its own armed forces in the coming years.
Better late than never. Germany, which is the European Union’s biggest economy and arguably most powerful member state, had until recently been a step behind its European allies on Russia’s gradual buildup of troops along the border of Ukraine, dragging its heels on Nord Stream 2, SWIFT and arms transfers to Ukraine.
Some policymakers had already seen the end of the post-Cold War era arrive when Russia first sent troops into Ukraine in 2014 to annex Crimea and occupy parts of the Donbas region.
Still, the German government went ahead and greenlit the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia in 2015. And leaders from both former chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic party and Scholz’s Social Democrats defended the project against mounting domestic and international criticism over the years.
Last week, Germany’s narrative on Russia started to shift. After Russia formally recognized the occupied regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, Scholz announced a halt to the pipeline’s certification process and a review of Germany’s energy security guidelines.
Then Saturday, after more of Germany’s European partners began transferring weapons and other military supplies to Ukraine, Scholz announced Germany now, too, would send 1,000 anti-tank and 500 anti-a