Germany’s foreign minister has insisted there is “no taboo” in Berlin over sending armoured vehicles to Ukraine, as her government defends itself against criticism that its delay in authorising the delivery of heavy weapons is undermining the west’s unified stance.
Berlin has not ruled out shipping tanks to Ukraine, “even if it may sound like that in the German debate”, said Annalena Baerbock at a joint press conference in Riga with the Latvian foreign minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs.
However, as the German army has run out of military hardware it can dispatch swiftly without undermining its own security commitments, the Green politician said her government had agreed instead a swap system whereby it would help refill the gaps in the arsenal of Nato and G7 states that are in a position to help Ukraine more quickly.
“We support partners that can deliver weapons quickly and guarantee replacements,” said Baerbock at the start of her three-day tour of the Baltic states.
“We have asked the German arms industry to tell us which material it can deliver in the short term,” Scholz said. “Ukraine has now made a selection from this list and we will provide it with the required money for the purchase.” The list of materials included anti-tank weapons, anti-airplane systems and munition “that could be used in artillery battle”, he said.
The Ukrainian government has complained that Scholz’s list does not include the kind of heavy weapons that would allow its forces to mount a counter-offensive against Russian troops in the Donbas region, such as the Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery system.
Ukraine’s ambassador in Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, said on Tuesday night that Scholz’s lack of direct material support had been received in Kyiv “with great disappointment and bitternes
After Russia’s invasion of its easterly neighbour on 27 February, Scholz announced an “epochal change” in Germany’s stance on weapons exports and military spending. But critics in Europe and at home say the Social Democrat chancellor has failed to follow up on his grand announcements with the firm steps required to send a message to the Kremlin and to reassure Nato allies that Germany has departed from its policy of rapprochement.
Berlin has already blocked European requests for an immediate embargo on Russian energy imports, saying it would not be able to wean itself off Russian oil until the end of the year and Russian gas until mid-2024 without destabilising its economy.
Tuesday’s speech seemed designed to assure a domestic audience that Germany’s three-party coalition government was acting in unison with its western partners. “Germany going alone would be wrong,” Scholz said. “Those who are in a comparable situation to us are acting the same.”
However, this week several other Nato states communicated in clearer terms than Germany that they are willing to send heavy weapons to Ukraine. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, announced on Tuesday that the Netherlands would ship heavy equipment, including armoured vehicles, while a US Pentagon official said on Monday that the first parts of its $800m (£613m) tranche of helicopters, howitzers and Humvees had already arrived on Ukrainian soil.
Baerbock said on Wednesday that Germany had in the past chosen not to make public all the weapons it has sent to support Ukraine, adding that the government could help Kyiv maintain more advanced weapons systems and train soldiers to use them.
“We have delivered anti-tank missiles, Stingers and other things that we have never spoken about publicly, so these deliveries could happen quickly,” she said.
Germany was in a better position to support Ukraine’s defensive effort in the long run rather than the short term, Baerbock said. “It is about the next three months, and the next three years. This is where Germany can contribute more.”