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the German dilemma of supplying tanks to Kiev

The German government is divided over the issue of supplying heavy weapons, such as tanks, to Ukraine in defense against the Russian invasion. The chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has been more than hesitant to respond to increasingly urgent requests from Kiev, which is doing everything it can to suggest that the outcome of the war depends primarily on Berlin.

the fate of mariupol eThe Donbass region would depend “on the supply of German weapons that we can obtain”, but will not come, Oleksii Arestovitch, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, lamented on Wednesday, April 13.

A lot of pressure on Berlin, while a victory in eastern Ukraine is described as the new big goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin after his failure in Kiev.

German president humiliated

Especially since Oleksii Arestovitch isn’t the only one pointing the finger at Germany. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this in an interview with the weekly Die Welt Am Sonntag on Sunday, April 10. “Germany is cold to us,” he added. And Andriy Melnyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, never misses an opportunity to ask Berlin for more weapons. even if that means openly conflicting with Christine LambrechtGerman Defense Minister.

Moreover, Ukraine does not have the monopoly of criticism of Berlin. Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski addressed the German hesitation, as did former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who called it a “great democracy”. Germany must “lead by example”

And then there was the humiliation of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president. The latter had announced his intention to go to Kiev before learning on April 12 that the Ukrainian government had no intention of receiving him. This SPD cacique is in fact held partly responsible by the Ukrainians for Germany’s rather lenient policy towards Russia, even after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 (he was twice foreign minister to Angela Merkel).

But above all, Volodymyr Zelenski does not want to settle for a manager whose power is mainly symbolic. He hopes to meet Olaf Scholz. The German chancellor has not been to Kiev since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, unlike several 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 believed his demands had been met, as Berlin first announced on Wednesday that the head of the German government would soon move to Kiev. In the end, nothing will happen…for now, the German Chancellery has decided. Olaf Scholz and Volodymyr Zelenski will therefore not be able to discuss “practical decisions” regarding the “supply of heavy weapons” in the near future, as Oleksii Arestovitch had hoped.

Because that’s what it’s all about. Kiev is determined to Berlin at the foot of the “Zeitenwende” – the “age change” announced by Olaf Scholz for Germany after the war started in Ukraine, and which involved a less pacifist position of Berlin and arms supplies. Except that since this speech, described as historic, the German chancellor has been accused of dragging, be it supplying weapons or imposing the toughest economic sanctions such as the gas embargo and Russian oil. Olaf Scholz has always said that Germany “delivered what she could and what was useful [à l’Ukraine]in weapons.

The fiasco of obsolete helmets and weapons

So far, Berlin has authorized EUR 186 million for the supply of military equipment, according to figures from the Ministry of Economic Affairs† But these shipments of equipment to Ukraine were more “tragi-comic” than really useful, the daily newspaper Die Zeit points out.

First there was the fiasco of sending 5,000 military helmets, which had been decided before the start of the war. Ukraine did not want them at the time, but moreover, “they arrived after the start of the invasion, when the situation on the ground had completely changed, making this equipment even less necessary,” the newspaper continues.

Defense Minister Christine Lamprecht then decided to send anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft guns. But she chose material that was partly too old to be useful. Notably, the government has supplied “Strela” anti-aircraft missiles, manufactured in 1968, which are too old to be fired safely, according to a November 2021 report by the German military. They should have been destroyed in 2014.

Volodymyr Zelenski hopes Berlin will do better for the Battle of Donbass. He wants heavy weapons, especially tanks. Indeed, the physiognomy of the fighting in eastern Ukraine should be very different from the failed campaign to take Kiev, explains the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Russian troops are expected to deploy fewer aircraft and more tanks and infantry to surround Ukrainian forces on the ground. “These will be high-intensity battles, which will mainly require the Ukrainians’ tanks to strike hard and maneuver quickly,” the newspaper writes.

The Greens and the FDP for sending 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 FDP – the SPD’s two partners in the ruling coalition – are in favor of this delivery of heavy weapons. Secretary of State Annalena Baerbock even said we had to act quickly.

Olaf Scholz and Christine Lambrecht, both members of the SPD, replied softly. The defense secretary claimed there were no tanks in reserve. It would be necessary to deploy those already mobilized, which, according to Christine Lambrecht, would “endanger German national security”.

The German chancellor, meanwhile, would not want to be the first to send offensive weapons to Ukraine. Until now, the countries supporting Kiev have been content to bolster Ukrainian defenses with anti-aircraft or anti-tank missiles. By sending tanks to Ukraine, Germany would play a much more active role in the conflict: “This would risk being perceived by Russia as an act of war that could lead the world in the third world war”, estimated General Erich Vad, who was Angela Merkel’s military adviser, questioned by Die Welt.

So Olaf Scholz is trapped in his “Zeitenwende”. The defense minister’s logistical apologies and warnings about the risk of escalation outweigh the images of the horrors of the war in Ukraine. Majority of Germans are in favor of supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons, says a Research published on Tuesday by the German statistical institute Forsa

German arms manufacturers are also exerting extra pressure on the government. The Rheinmetall group announced that it has about a hundred tanks that can be delivered quickly – in less than two months – to the Ukrainians. These are Marder motorized combat vehicles, manufactured since the 1970s, and Leopard 1, heavy tanks whose production dates back to the 1950s.

This weapon manufacturer even indicated that it was a handy model. A way of wiping the carpet under another SPD argument, according to which it may not have been wise to send tanks that the Ukrainian soldiers could not use after months of training.

the New York Times also questions the reality of the German commitment to do the maximum for Ukraine. With his planned trip to Ukraine, Olaf Scholz probably hoped to prove that one of the most important foreign policy changes in Europe – the abandonment of pacifism especially in Germany – were not just empty words.

Despite this pressure from all sides, Olaf Scholz decided not to go to Kiev in the end. But while “Berlin seems to think it has time, Ukraine doesn’t”, Dmytro Kuleba recalled in early Aprilthe Ukrainian Foreign Minister, to his counterparts from NATO countries.

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