Germany has promised rapid tank exchanges to help Ukraine. This does not happen. – POLITICS

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BERLIN — It’s a hot candidate for the German Word of the Year — and increasingly a synonym for the issues surrounding Berlin’s military support for Ukraine: “Ringtäusch.”

Contrary to its literal meaning – the exchange of wedding rings at a wedding – the word has come to encompass the tank swap scheme proposed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in April. His promise: if Germany’s European allies sent their old tanks to Ukraine, Berlin would quickly replace those vehicles from its own supply.

Three months later, however, Berlin is struggling to implement many of these agreements, leading to a delay in tank deliveries to Ukraine as the country tries to repel Russian advances in the east and prepares a offensive aimed at reconquering territory to the south.

Now Scholz is under increasing pressure on the slow pace. Not only does Germany’s centre-right opposition take him to task, but members of his own coalition are publicly grumbling. Adding to the turmoil, NATO ally Poland has openly accused Germany of not keeping its commitments, with Warsaw Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak saying the offer was “only a propaganda effort.

“The Ringtausch has become a stalemate because of Chancellor Scholz’s hesitation,” said Friedrich Merz, leader of Germany’s main opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). “It should give him food for thought that even Poland – one of our most important partners – is now strongly criticizing the German government for its inaction.”

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak | Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

Merz traveled to Warsaw on Wednesday to discuss political tensions with Polish officials, including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

It’s a timely political affront that highlights the political crisis between Berlin and Warsaw – heads of government don’t normally welcome a partner’s opposition leader. And for Scholz, new attacks carry the risk of domestic political unrest.

Although Berlin this week provided fresh military support to Ukraine – and cleared a request from Kyiv to buy 100 longer-term German-made howitzers – the Ringtausch unrest has refocused attention on a lingering issue. the chancellor since the first days of the war: Her reluctance to supply Ukraine with the most powerful vehicles in Germany.

Who receives the German tanks?

Discussions focus on two of Germany’s most powerful weapons, the Leopard battle tank and the Marder, an infantry fighting vehicle.

Instead of sending Leopards or Marders directly to Ukraine, Scholz in April proposed an exchange program under which NATO countries that still possess Soviet-era tanks would donate them to Kyiv in exchange for more modern German tanks.

The Chancellor argued that the Ringtausch model would be more beneficial for Ukraine. The Kyiv Army would get the same Soviet-style tank designs its forces already use and, in theory, avoid the training and logistics needed to operate and repair German tanks.

In practice, however, the exchange of tanks made minimal progress.

So far, Germany has only made significant progress in reaching an agreement with the Czech Republic. Other potential deals with Slovakia, Slovenia and Greece remain stuck in negotiations. And, to make matters worse, Polish officials say their swap deal has essentially failed.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Prague on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock diplomatically admitted that the government was struggling to implement the swap deals.

“I am happy that the Ringtausch with the Czech Republic is on the right track,” she said. “We also need to make sure that it can also be done with other people. [tank swap deals].”

Baerbock, of Scholz’s green coalition partner, had previously urged the Chancellor to send German tanks directly to Ukraine. But Scholz and senior members of his Social Democratic Party (SPD) fear the move could provoke Russia and even escalate into a Third World War.

Therefore, the government has tried to avoid giving the impression that it will send tanks to Ukraine.

Even when Germany delivered the first three of 30 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to the country this week, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht argued these weapons do not count as tanks in the classic sense. Tellingly, a government list of military support for Ukraine only lists the Gepard as a “self-propelled anti-aircraft gun”.

“Massive damage to Germany’s reputation”

Scholz has repeatedly said that he closely coordinates arms deliveries with other NATO partners and that so far no other ally – including the United States – has delivered Western tanks. modern in Kyiv.

For the chancellor, the Ringtausch seemed a comfortable solution. Not only would this provide the Ukrainian army with ready-to-use tanks, but it would include an element of denial, making it harder for Russia to know whether it was fighting regular Ukrainian tanks or machines supplied by the West. .

However, aside from the tank swap with the Czech Republic – under which Germany agreed to supply Prague with 14 Leopard 2A4 tanks and a tank recovery vehicle – other deals have still not been finalized. .

In many cases, the problem is that the partner countries want better equipment from Germany. Slovenia, for example, was offered 1970s-era Marder infantry vehicles but requested the more modern Boxer armored fighting vehicle instead, officials said. Berlin declined the request, as Germany did not even sufficiently equip its own armed forces with this model.

Things got particularly tense with Poland, which supplied about 280 T-72 tanks to Ukraine in the early months of the war and then asked Berlin to help replace them.

“First it took months for the German government to respond, then they offered to send only 20 Leopard 2 tanks, the first to be delivered in April next year, then the following successively over the next few years. following quarters,” Roderich Kiesewetter, a CDU lawmaker focused on defense policy, told POLITICO.

Germany has promised rapid tank exchanges to help Ukraine. This does not happen. – POLITICS
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

“It’s just not enough,” Kiesewetter added. “A senior Polish Foreign Ministry official told me, ‘If it had been at least one battalion, that is 48 to 56 Leopard tanks, it might have been acceptable.’ But we weren’t willing to provide that – and all of that massively damages Germany’s reputation in Eastern Europe.

German deputy government spokeswoman Christine Hoffmann told reporters on Monday that tank swap talks with partner countries are “going very constructively”, and added that the government remains “optimistic” about the possibility of concluding an agreement with Poland.

The ruling coalition wants more

Scholz’s own governing coalition is concerned about the lack of progress on tank expeditions.

“I supported the idea of ​​the Ringtausch very early and resolutely,” Michael Roth, chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee and senior SPD official, told POLITICO. “A few months ago, it was mainly about providing Ukraine with short-term support in the form of weapons that the soldiers could use without prolonged training. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really worked so far.

Given these struggles, Germany should “expand” its military supplies to Ukraine, Roth said, hinting at a possible direct delivery of German tanks to the country.

“We are now in a new phase of the war,” he said. “Every day counts for Ukraine, so we need pragmatic solutions quickly.”

Similar rhetoric comes from the two coalition partners of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP).

“The Ringtausch is not working as planned,” Katrin Göring-Eckardt, vice president of the Bundestag, told German media over the weekend. “Alternatives must be put on the table. For example, supplying weapons directly, if we can.

FDP defense policy spokesman Alexander Müller told POLITICO that “it is foreseeable that soon there will be no more Soviet-era tanks available” to initiate new tank swaps. “Therefore, Chancellor Scholz must take the next step and stop refusing so harshly to supply Western battle tanks.”

Baerbock also stressed on Tuesday that the war is likely to continue for many months, prompting the German government to change tactics.

“We will ask ourselves every day…how we can coordinate our support even faster and even better,” she said.

CDU MP Johann Wadephul noted on twitter that possible Greens and FDP support for direct tank shipments meant that there might be a parliamentary majority to pass a resolution pressuring Scholz on this.

“If the federal government does not implement this, the Bundestag will have to decide on that,” Wadephul said.


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