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Opinion: Sooner than expected

Germany has taken on a leadership role in the Ukraine crisis. Costs and risks are involved, writes DW's Dagmar Engel.

The OSCE military observers in eastern Ukraine hadn't even been released yet when the outcry went up, from the left and the right, but certainly with the consent of many in this country. Germans don't really want to be drawn into the conflict, they'd rather sit on the fence - many still believe this is an option.

But that's part of the established way of thinking - of "either/or."

The woodcut-style days are a thing of the past, we live in the digital era of millions of pixels that only form a picture as a whole. Germany should take a vey close look as it is expected to take on a leadership role. A leadership role, mind you, in a European context, particularly in a EU context. A nation can't stay out of things, but neither can it make a difference single-handedly.

Germany is too big for the former and too small for the latter. So the desire to keep out of things is just as absurd as demands to bring out the big guns.

How to handle conflicts

Certainly, rapid action is not a European strength - and particularly not a German strength. Europe's strength is having access to a variety of tools to handle conflicts and that they are prepared and patient enough to use them.

That includes the German chancellor's telephone conversations with the Russian president on an almost daily basis, and the German foreign minister's nonstop traveling diplomacy. From the start, he urged bringing on board the OSCE, which all of the conflict parties belong to.

The preparedness to engage tougher sanctions is another instrument - in accordance with the US -, as is the simultaneous warning that sanctions always leave open an option for another, tougher step.

Sooner than expected

The German government has forgone tough words and heroic behavior for the sake of appearances. Instead, the chancellor and the foreign minister resort to every available diplomatic channel, including the OSCE, demands for a second Geneva Conference, and the preparedness to impose tougher sanctions. Risks and costs are on the horizon for German soldiers on OSCE observer missions and Germany's economy alike. That is something Germany will have to accept in its leadership role.

At the Munich Security Conference earlier this year, Germany's president announced Germany should and would take on more responsibility in international affairs. The litmus test came sooner than expected. Germany has accepted its leadership role - and so far, it hasn't been doing a bad job at all.

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