Germany's Scholz under pressure to speed up weapons exports to Ukraine

Kyiv says decisions are moving too slowly while Russia continues to bomb the country

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says weapons exports are being made in consultation with allies. Getty
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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under growing pressure to speed up weapons exports to Ukraine amid impatience from Kyiv at what it sees as a slow response while the Russian onslaught continues.

Although Mr Scholz has spoken of a historic shift in German policy after years of conciliation towards Russia, critics say this has been half-hearted in practice, with Berlin accused of lagging behind allies in offering practical support.

The cool atmosphere was underlined this week by a row over a potential visit to Ukraine by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said he had pulled out after learning he was not welcome in Kyiv.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba played down that dispute but said Germany’s decision to supply arms had come too late, and that it had since made excuses for not sending heavy weaponry such as tanks.

While there are growing calls from within Mr Scholz’s ruling coalition to start supplying such weapons, Mr Kuleba said Ukrainians could not wait patiently for such a consensus to emerge.

“We pay the price in human lives for German politicians to have time to make decisions,” he told ARD television in Germany.

There are also signs of dissent within Mr Scholz’s three-party coalition, made up of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), which took office in December.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, an FDP politician and the chairwoman of a parliamentary defence committee, has gone public with her criticism of what she sees as weak leadership by Mr Scholz.

“The chancellor needs to finally lead the way and sort out what is to be done. He’s not really doing that,” she said.

Anton Hofreiter, a leading Green MP who joined Ms Strack-Zimmermann on the first German delegation to Kyiv since the war began, said Mr Scholz was “standing on the brakes” and damaging his country’s reputation in Europe.

Mr Scholz took another blow from a group of 96 policy experts and former politicians who accused Germany of “short-sighted egoism” that had hindered Europe’s response to Russia’s war.

They said in an open letter that weapons supplies to Ukraine should include warships, fighter planes and other material beyond what western powers have generally referred to as defensive equipment.

Ukraine rejects the distinction between defensive and offensive weapons, arguing that all its military gear is being used in self-defence while it is under attack by Russia.

“When we needed heavy weapons, I started hearing from Berlin arguments that all weapons should be divided in two categories … and Ukraine cannot get a tank because it’s an offensive weapon,” said Mr Kuleba.

“This is what I mean when I speak about half measures.”

Mr Scholz has responded to criticism by insisting that weapons transfers are made in consultation with allies and by noting his historic decision to deliver weapons at all.

Germany has sent anti-tank weapons and Stinger air defence missiles from its own stocks and approved the onward transfer of equipment possessed by other countries that once belonged to the East German military.

The chancellor said Germany was a leading supplier of humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine and that bureaucratic procedures involved in exporting weapons ensured they were of good quality.

But Ukraine has spoken more warmly of Britain and American support after both countries started supplying weapons before Russia invaded in February.

“We appreciate the fact that Germany changed its position, but if this position had been changed before, we could have avoided the war,” Mr Kuleba said.

Frustration at Germany’s position goes beyond the immediate policies of Mr Scholz’s government, with the Russia-friendly policies of his predecessors Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schroeder both coming in for severe criticism.

Mr Steinmeier, who was a senior figure under both chancellors, has acknowledged the failure of his overtures to Moscow during two terms as foreign secretary.

Mr Schroeder and Mrs Merkel both pursued deeper economic ties with Russia and supported the construction of gas pipelines that have added to Germany’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

Germany has resisted calls in the European Union for an immediate import ban on oil and gas, but is moving to rid itself of reliance on both by 2024 in what it says will amount to a de facto embargo.

Updated: April 15, 2022, 11:58 AM