Opinion | How Germany Became Putin’s Enabler


What strikes me — a parallel that for some reason I haven’t seen many people drawing — is the contrast between Germany’s current reluctance to make moderate sacrifices, even in the face of horrific war crimes, and the immense sacrifices Germany demanded of other countries during the European debt crisis a decade ago.

As some readers may remember, early last decade much of southern Europe faced a crisis as lending dried up, sending interest rates on government debt soaring. German officials were quick to blame these countries for their own plight, insisting, with much moralizing, that they were in trouble because they had been fiscally irresponsible and now needed to pay the price.

As it turns out, this diagnosis was mostly wrong. Much of the surge in southern European interest rates reflected a market panic rather than fundamentals; borrowing costs plunged, even for Greece, after the president of the European Central Bank said three words — “whatever it takes” — suggesting that the bank would, if necessary, step in to buy the debt of troubled economies.

Yet Germany took the lead in demanding that debtor nations impose extreme austerity measures, especially spending cuts, no matter how large the economic costs. And those costs were immense: Between 2009 and 2013 the Greek economy shrank by 21 percent while the unemployment rate rose to 27 percent.

But while Germany was willing to impose economic and social catastrophe on countries it claimed had been irresponsible in their borrowing, it has been unwilling to impose far smaller costs on itself despite the undeniable irresponsibility of its past energy policies.

I’m not sure how to quantify this, but my sense is that Germany received far more and clearer warning about its feckless reliance on Russian gas than Greece ever did about its pre-crisis borrowing. Yet it seems as if Germany’s famous eagerness to treat economic policy as a morality play applies only to other countries.

To be fair, Germany has moved on from its initial unwillingness to help Ukraine at all; Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany claims, although the Germans deny it, that he was told there was no point in sending weapons because his government would collapse in hours. And maybe, maybe, the realization that refusing to shut off the flow of Russian gas makes Germany de facto complicit in mass murder will finally be enough to induce real action.