The warning shots are getting closer and louder.
During a heated parliamentary session on Thursday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz received clear signals from his coalition partners that they expect him to step up arms deliveries to Ukraine in which becomes an increasingly critical inflection point in the war.
While his coalition government bought him some more time in the debate in the Bundestag and temporarily pushed back a critical parliamentary motion expressing lack of confidence in his military support for Ukraine, it now looks increasingly likely that Scholz will have to answer the calls. for Europe’s largest economy to pull its weight when it comes to arming Kyiv more decisively.
Feverishly, opposition MP Florian Hahn of the center-right Christian Social Union fumed that Germany was only “number 18 in the world” when comparing its military aid to Ukraine against economic output. Hahn noted that Estonia was far ahead of Germany in supplying arms instead of keeping them for national defense, “even though they have a direct border with the Russian Federation.”
The centre-right opposition Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) bloc had demanded a vote on a Bundestag motion urging the government to ‘immediately’ authorize the export of battle tanks and vehicles German infantry fighters to Ukraine. This would amount to a vote of no confidence in Scholz’s Ukrainian strategy, since the Chancellor has repeatedly ruled out such deliveries until other Western allies deliver similar heavy equipment.
The opposition maneuver was particularly dangerous for Scholz and his Social Democratic Party (SPD) because the political leaders of his coalition partners, the Greens and the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), also demanded the delivery of tanks of German Leopard combat and Marder infantry combat. Vehicles.
Timing is now essential. Ukraine calls for more weapons as it launches bold counter-offensives against Russian invaders in the east and south of the country, while Russian President Vladimir Putin vows to throw in hundreds of thousands of new soldiers in the conflict and organizes false referendums in occupied territories to incorporate them into Russia.
A vote on arms deliveries in the Bundestag would have risked revealing fatal cracks in government unity and could even have led to a defeat for Scholz in parliament.
However, after a heated 50-minute debate, the majority of SPD, Greens and FDP MPs voted to send the opposition motion to the Foreign Affairs and Economic Affairs Committees for further consideration. This effectively delays a plenary vote on the text by a few weeks.
Yet the government now also faces the risk of further pressure next week, as the opposition “may demand a plenary vote” on another tank motion for Ukraine that the CDU/CSU originally tabled in June, but which had also been delayed at the time. by delegating it to the committee level, Roderich Kiesewetter of the CDU told POLITICO.
SPD foreign policy spokesman Nils Schmid claimed the postponement of Thursday’s vote was justified as the opposition was merely orchestrating a political attack, hoping to weaken government unity .
Scholz, who was not present at the debate, said in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday that Germany would support Ukraine “with all its strength: financially, economically, with humanitarian aid and also with weapons”.
Pressure from coalition partners
The most striking part of Thursday’s debate was the intensity of the criticism from within the ranks of Scholz’s own coalition. Senior Greens and FDP lawmakers clearly disagreed with the chancellor’s stance and stressed they wanted Germany to send more heavy weapons.
“As free democrats, we believe that in the current military situation, in which Ukraine recovers its territory, piece by piece, we must provide at least the Fuchs armored transport vehicle and the Marder infantry fighting vehicle – and if the situation demands it, the Leopard main battle tank as well,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the FDP, chairwoman of the Bundestag Defense Committee.
Basically, Strack-Zimmermann cited the “Zeitenwende” – a historic shift in German foreign and security policy that Scholz announced in February following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – to argue that Scholz should not not justify its reluctance to send tanks by claiming that other allies like the United States were not sending modern tanks to Ukraine either.
“Zeitenwende not only means doing more for the German armed forces, it also means taking the lead and not waiting for our partners to make uncomfortable decisions on our part,” she said.
Greens co-leader Omid Nouripour has launched a campaign against Social Democrats’ concerns that delivering tanks to Ukraine could trigger an “irrational” escalation by Putin – a fear that has been recently voiced by SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert.
“There are arguments that I cannot follow,” Nouripour told the Bundestag. “That our weapons lead to an escalation presupposes that the Russian side needs excuses for the escalation. It’s grotesque. Of course they don’t need excuses, the aggression is there,” Nouripour said in reference to Putin’s announcement on Wednesday to mobilize up to 300,000 reservists.
Pass from No. 18
Germany has so far sent 30 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, 10 Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers and three Mars multiple rocket launchers, along with various smaller weapons, to Ukraine, according to a government list.
Following mounting pressure at home and from its allies, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht announced last week that Berlin would also send 50 “Dingo” armored vehicles and two more Mars rocket launchers – contradicting her own arguments of a few days earlier that Germany could not spare more weapons in support of Ukraine.
Yet despite these increases, Johann Wadephul, deputy chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, argued that Germany had a historical and moral obligation to step up its support for Ukraine.
“If, in light of the mass graves at Bucha and Izium, we are serious about saying, ‘Never again! Germany must make sure something doesn’t happen again,” he said.