After months of political debate, the German government announced on January 25 that it would send Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) to Ukraine. The decision marks Germany’s shift from its policy of Ostpolitik — an approach followed in an effort to bridge Berlin’s divisions and “bring change through trade”.

How did Germany’s policy towards Russia evolve in the 20th century?

  • Germany’s relationship with Russia has always been critical to European security and prosperity.
  • Soon after the Bolshevik revolution and Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the Soviet Union and the newly born German republic signed the Treaty of Rapallo, establishing diplomatic relations.
  • In August 1939, as war clouds were hovering around Europe, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression agreement, which eventually collapsed in 1941 when Hitler invaded the latter.
  • After the Second World War, Germany was divided between the Soviet backed East Germany and the U.S.-backed West Germany. Gradually in 1971, with the adoption of ‘Ostpolitik’ by West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, significant economic interaction began between the two sides.
  • As a result of this policy, Germany signed an agreement and started importing Russian natural gas for the first time. It was a widely shared belief that economic interdependence could foster better political ties.

What about post-Cold War period?

  • In the post-Soviet world, a unified Germany doubled down on its efforts to promote ties with Russia.
  • The efforts to promote political ties through energy trade continued even as Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schroder rose to leadership in Russia and Germany, respectively.
  • The Nord Stream 1 pipeline, transporting gas directly from Russia to Germany, was a result of these changing equations.
  • The energy relationship went hand-in-hand with the political relationship. Regardless of Russia’s actions in Georgia (2008) and Crimea (2014), the German political establishment continued enhancing Germany’s energy reliance on Russia.

How has the war in Ukraine impacted Germany’s foreign policy?

  • As Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Germany’s policy underwent a fundamental shift.
  • Chancellor Scholz declared the war a Zeitenwende (turning point), and since then, Germany’s policy has moved away from an emphasis on dialogue and diplomacy to a more assertive stance, culminating in the decision to send Leopard 2 MBTs to Ukraine.
  • In the initial phases of the war, Berlin believed that a diplomatic solution was possible to bring an end to the conflict.
  • However, as the war progressed, Germany amended several of its previous policies that shaped its orientation towards Russia.

What has been Germany’s response since the war?

  • One of the key factors driving this change in policy is Germany’s recognition of the need to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.
  • Soon after Mr. Putin recognised Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces as independent republics, Germany stalled the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was ready for operation.
  • Subsequently, it announced the construction of four floating terminals and two permanent onshore sites for enhanced LNG imports, struck an energy deal with Qatar, and supported numerous rounds of EU sanctions against Russian entities.
  • Germany also worked with other European capitals to assure swift delivery of arms and aid to Ukraine.
  • Germany’s gradual shift towards a more robust policy towards Russia is a testament to the changing realities of Europe’s security landscape.


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