BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is facing growing criticism at home and abroad for his government’s failure to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine to help it fend off Russian attacks, even as other Western allies step up shipments.
Scholz says Germany’s own military’s stocks are too depleted to send any heavy battlefield weapons like tanks and howitzers while those the German industry has said it could supply could not easily be put into use. Critics, including among his junior coalition partners, accuse Scholz of being too timid, perhaps due to reticence in some sectors of his Social Democrats (SPD) which long advocated Western rapprochement with Russia.
Here is an explanation of Germany’s stance:
THE LONG SHADOW OF GERMANY’S HISTORY
Unlike other Western allies, Germany did not supply weapons to Ukraine before Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 and even blocked other nations from sending German-origin military equipment, given a long-standing policy of not exporting arms to war zones. That policy had broad public support given Germany’s bloody 20th-century history and resulting pacifism, and specifically guilt towards the Soviet Union over World War Two.
Yet days after the invasion which Moscow describes a “special military operation”, Scholz announced a dramatic overhaul of German foreign and security policy aimed at making the country more assertive. The chancellor pledged the delivery of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons from German military stocks, which he described however as “defensive weapons”.
While the government refuses to detail what it has actually sent so far, the Bundeswehr has sent a total of 83 million euros worth of stocks (using the depreciated value), according to Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht. The government said last week it had earmarked 1.4 billion euros to help Ukraine buy weapons, including 400 million euros destined for the European Peace Facility’s funding for Kyiv – nearly a third of its total 1.5 billion euro budget.
DRAWING A LINE AT HEAVY WEAPONS?
Increasingly, Western countries are also sending heavy weapons to Ukraine – but not Germany. The Bundeswehr is in bad shape after 30 years of attrition following the end of the Cold War. Both Scholz and Lambrecht have argued that giving away any of its heavy weapons would jeopardize the military’s capability to do its job.
Moreover Ukraine needs the heavy weapons quickly, said Scholz. There has been talk in the German industry of bringing weapons such as the Leopard 1 tank or old Marder infantry fighting vehicles back in working condition to send to Ukraine. But this would take time. The first of 50 Leopard 1 tanks could be delivered in six weeks, the CEO of arms maker Rheinmetall, Armin Papperger, told Handelblatt newspaper mid-April.
Scholz on Tuesday also raised the issue of the complexity of training Ukrainian troops on Western systems and maintaining and supplying them with spare parts in a war zone. This is why, according to Scholz, it makes most sense to supply Kyiv with heavy weapons built in the Soviet Union and still in use or storage with some eastern NATO allies.
“The German government is not against heavy weapons being sent to Ukraine per se,” a government source said. “We approved the delivery by the Czech Republic of old German-origin tanks to Ukraine and will support Dutch artillery sent to Ukraine with ammunition. It is about availability.”
CONTROVERSIAL LIST OF WEAPONS GERMANY COULD SEND UKRAINE
Germany’s government has shared with Ukraine a list of equipment industry could also provide, Scholz said. But it does not include any heavy weapons, a defence source told Reuters. Bild newspaper reported on Thursday that the chancellery had cut a defence ministry list of weapons the industry could provide in half. The defence ministry declined to comment while the chancellery did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
“The weapons we need are not on this list,” Ukrainian Ambassador Andrij Melnyk told ZDF broadcaster on Tuesday. “Every further hesitation costs human lives.”
STILL TOO CAUTIOUS?
Military experts say the German strategy is too timid. “There is an artificial barrier being constructed from our side,” retired German general Egon Ramms told public broadcaster ZDF. “These weapons may not be that easy to operate and the Ukrainian troops need to be trained on them, but this training can also be delivered in a sped-up manner,” he said, referring to Leopard 1 tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles.
“Equipment like this would have been extraordinarily valuable for Ukraine, especially if the decision to supply it to Kyiv would have been taken six weeks ago,” said Ramms.
COALITION UNDER STRAIN
The dispute over the delivery of heavy weapons is causing strains in Germany’s first national three-way coalition between Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) and junior partners the Greens and Free Democrats. The Greens and FDP are pushing for Berlin to step up arms supplies to Ukraine.
“I find it a bit paternalistic to tell the Ukrainian military that has been fighting heroically for weeks that it might not be able to deal” with certain equipment, Anton Hofreiter, Greens chairman of parliament’s Europe committee, told ZDF. Members of the SPD have defended Scholz and warned of being drawn into what could be considered a direct confrontation with Russia. Germany is also heavily dependent on Russian energy.
“There are no simple answers, also for the delivery of heavy military equipment to Ukraine,” said SPD parliamentary group leader Ralf Muetzenich, saying such decisions would have broad-reaching consequences for German and NATO security.