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Whose side are you on? Are you with Vladimir Putin or with the democracies he wants to annihilate?

Until the last few days, the German political class denied that this question even needed to be asked.

The Russian assault on Ukraine has exposed “the moral and material failure of a generation”, as Jasper von Altenbockum put it yesterday in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

German politicians saw no need to make hard choices between Russia and Russia’s freedom-loving neighbours. A hazy vision, adopted from the peace movement, of a disarmed and peaceful world stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok, was allowed to take hold.

After all, the Berlin Wall had fallen without a shot being fired, Germany was reunified, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Red Army marched away.

For the 16 years until last December, Angela Merkel was Chancellor of Germany, and it suited her to believe, despite growing evidence to the contrary, that Putin was a trustworthy partner.

There was a tendency in Berlin to view Russia as the only successor state to the Soviet Union. The rest of central and eastern Europe was treated by most members of the German elite as flyover country, of no interest to them as they flew over it on their way to do deals with Putin.

Warnings from the Poles, the Ukrainians and others that Putin could not be trusted were ignored. Those raising the alarm were backwoodsmen who did not understand how the modern world worked.

While talking to Putin, Germany’s leaders could flatter themselves that rather than being provincial figures, with no idea how to think strategically, they too were the representatives of a great power, acting astutely in order to safeguard their energy supplies.

Merkel’s predecessor as Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, had announced in 2002 that Germany’s nuclear power stations would be phased out by 2022, only to take, for himself, the chairmanship of the Nord Stream pipeline project to bring Russian gas to Germany by way of the Baltic, thus bypassing Poland and Ukraine.

When Merkel became Chancellor in 2005, she reversed the nuclear decision, only to reverse her own reversal in 2011, when to general astonishment she claimed the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan meant it was after all necessary to phase out German nuclear plants.

Germany’s power stations were in absolutely no danger of being hit by a tidal wave, which is what happened at Fukushima, so her pretext was implausible.

But Merkel reaped a big domestic dividend by adopting one of the Greens’ most popular policies, and she reckoned she knew how to manage Moscow, for she had grown up and achieved success as a scientist in East Germany:

Until Merkel was in her mid-thirties, power resided in Moscow, to which she contrived, as a gifted young scientist, to make several visits. She was not a Communist but she and her family made the accommodation with the authorities that was needed for her to get an education. She learned from a young age something about power and about the art of pragmatic compromise, and she also learned how to conceal whatever her own opinions might be. The young Merkel had no training or, indeed, interest in politics. When some of her scientific friends suggested she might like to protest with them against the regime, she laughed at the seeming futility of their proposed course of action.

She was fluent in Russian, and as Leon Mangasarian last year reminded readers of ConHome, she insisted that the Nord Stream project was just another business deal, and was also disgracefully lax (as indeed are many others to this day) in her dealings with the Chinese regime.

But after the invasion of Ukraine, Merkel said:

“There is no justification for this blatant breach of international law, and I wholeheartedly condemn it.”

The invasion has exposed many years of self-deception and wishful thinking in Berlin. Merkel was the head of a political class which when faced with difficult strategic choices, adopted the posture of an ostrich, burying its head in the sand.

Germany’s armed forces are in a deplorable state of weakness. Berlin did, however, begin yesterday to relax restrictions on the export of German-made weapons and ammunition to conflict zones, which had been hindering the supply of essential military equipment to Ukraine.

And Merkel’s successor, Olaf Scholz, announced yesterday evening that a “turning point” has been reached and Germany will herself supply 1000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger rockets to Ukraine.

History has not stopped, universal peace does not reign, and Germany, as the richest country on the continent of Europe, has realised it cannot opt out of a struggle between a bloodstained dictator and a free nation.