The German government is divided on the issue of delivering heavy weapons, such as tanks, to Ukraine to defend against the Russian invasion. The chancellor, Olaf Schultz, is more than reluctant to respond to the increasingly urgent demands from Kyiv, which is doing its best to suggest that the outcome of the war depends primarily on Berlin.
The fate of Mariupol and the Donbass region will depend on the “delivery of German weapons that we can get” but does not come, Oleksiy Aristovich, advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, lamented, on Wednesday, April 13.
Much pressure is placed on Berlin, with victory in eastern Ukraine touted as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new main goal, after his failure in Kyiv.
Humiliation of the German President
Especially since Oleksii Arestovitch is not the only one pointing the finger at Germany. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did the same in an interview with the weekly Die Welt Am Sonntag on Sunday, April 10. “Germany is cold towards us,” he added. And Andrei Melnik, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, does not miss the opportunity to demand more weapons from Berlin, even if it means entering into open conflict with German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht.
Moreover, Ukraine does not have a monopoly on criticism against Berlin. Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski addressed German indecision, as did former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who said that Germany, as a “great democracy”, should “be a role model”.
Then there was the humiliation of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president. The latter had announced his intention to go to Kyiv before learning, on April 12, that the Ukrainian government did not intend to receive him. Indeed, Ukrainians consider this SPD to be partially responsible for Germany’s accommodationist policy toward Russia, including after the 2014 annexation of Crimea (it was Angela Merkel’s foreign minister twice).
But above all, Volodymyr Zelensky does not want to be satisfied with a manager whose power is above all symbolic. He hopes to meet Olaf Schultz. The German chancellor has not visited Kyiv since the start of the Ukraine crisis, unlike many other Western leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron, who made the trip to the Ukrainian capital in February, or British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, last weekend.
The Ukrainian president may have thought his demands had been heard, since Berlin first announced on Wednesday that the head of the German government would quickly fly to Kyiv. In the end, nothing will happen .. for now, the German chancellor has decided. So Olaf Scholz and Volodymyr Zelensky will not have the opportunity, in the near future, to discuss “practical decisions” on the “delivery of heavy weapons”, as Oleksiy Aristovich hoped.
Because that’s all there is to it. Kyiv is intent on placing Berlin in the position of “Zeitenwende” – the “historic change” of Germany announced by Olaf Schulz after the start of the war in Ukraine, which indicates a less pacifist attitude on the part of Berlin and arms supplies. However, since this speech, described as historic, the German chancellor has been accused of slowing down, whether to hand over arms or to impose the most severe economic sanctions such as the Russian oil and gas embargo. Olaf Schulz has always said that Germany “is doing what it can and what is useful [à l’Ukraine]In arms.
The fiasco of using outdated helmets and weapons
So far, Berlin has approved 186 million euros for the delivery of military equipment, according to Economy Ministry figures. But these shipments of equipment to Ukraine were more “comically tragic” than really useful, as the daily Die Zeit asserts.
First, there was the fiasco to send 5,000 military helmets, which had been decided before the start of the war. Ukraine did not want them at that time, but, in addition, “they arrived after the start of the invasion, when the situation on the ground completely changed, making this equipment less necessary,” she continues daily.
Then Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht decided to send anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft defense devices. But she chose a material that was too old to be useful. The government, in particular, handed over “Strela” anti-aircraft missiles, manufactured in 1968, which had become too old to be launched safely, according to a report by the Bundeswehr in November 2021. They had to be destroyed in 2014.
Volodymyr Zelensky hopes that Berlin will do better at the Battle of Donbass. He wants heavy weapons ie tanks in particular. The Süddeutsche Zeitung explains that the features of the fighting in eastern Ukraine should be very different from the failed campaign to seize Kyiv.
Russian forces are expected to deploy fewer aircraft, more tanks and more infantry to corner the Ukrainian forces. “These will be very intense clashes and the Ukrainians will need them above all, tanks so that they can strike hard and be able to maneuver quickly,” the daily specifies.
The Green Party and the FDP to send tanks to Ukraine
This call to send tanks pushed the German government to the brink of an internal crisis. The Greens and the Liberals of the Free Democratic Party – the two partners of the Social Democrats within the ruling coalition – support the handover of heavy weapons. Indeed, Secretary of State Annalena Barbock has said that we must act quickly.
Olaf Scholz and Christine Lambrecht, both members of the SPD, answered calmly. The defense minister claimed that there were no tanks in reserve. It would be necessary to use those already mobilized, which “would jeopardize German national security,” according to Christine Lambrecht.
In the meantime, the German chancellor will not want to be the first to send offensive weapons to Ukraine. Until now, the countries that supported Kyiv were satisfied with strengthening the Ukrainian defenses with anti-aircraft or anti-tank missiles. By sending tanks to Ukraine, Germany would play a more active role in the conflict: “This might be seen as an act of war by Russia which might drag the world into the realm of World War III,” said General Eric Faad, who was Angela Merkel’s military advisor, In an interview with Die Welt.
Thus Olaf Schultz became trapped in the Zeitweinde. The Defense Minister’s logistical apologies and warnings of the danger of escalation bear little weight against the images of the horrors of the war in Ukraine. A majority of Germans support the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine, according to a poll conducted by the German statistical institute Forsa and published on Tuesday.
German arms manufacturers are putting additional pressure on the government. The Rheinmetall Group announced that it had about a hundred tanks that could be quickly delivered – in less than two months – to the Ukrainians. These are Marder motorized combat vehicles, manufactured since the 70s, and Leopard 1 heavy tanks of the 50s of the last century.
Even this gun manufacturer specified that it was an easy-to-handle model. A way to pull the rug out from under another argument of the SPD, according to which it was probably unwise to send tanks that Ukrainian soldiers had not been able to use before they had been trained for several months.
The New York Times also questions the fact that Germany is committed to doing its best for Ukraine. With his planned trip to Ukraine, Olaf Schultz may have hoped to demonstrate that one of the most important changes in European foreign policy – the abandonment of pacifism above all in Germany – was not just hollow words.
Despite these pressures from all sides, Olaf Schultz eventually decided not to go to Kyiv. But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reminded his NATO counterparts in early April that while “Berlin seems to think it has time, Ukraine does not.”