Federal government: “Trust me”: Scholz releases leopards

What hasn’t Chancellor Scholz had to listen to in the past few weeks in the debate about the delivery of battle tanks to Ukraine? Now he has managed to say yes.

So now he did it after all. On Wednesday at 11.36 am there Chancellor Olaf Scholz the marching orders for the Leopard 2 main battle tanks – via e-mail from his government spokesman. 14 copies from the stocks of the Bundeswehr are to support the Ukraine in the war against the Russian attackers. 74 Leopards from other European countries are to be added to equip two battalions. “This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability,” declared the Chancellor.

It is nothing less than a European main battle tank alliance for the Ukraine, which Scholz announced in the short message. Ukraine has been calling for it for a long time, and Poland recently pushed it forward with massive public pressure. Now the chancellor is at the head of the tank movement. His word is decisive because the Leopard tanks are produced in Germany and the federal government has to approve any export to Ukraine.

For weeks, the chancellor remained staunchly silent on the subject. The pressure from the allies, the criticism from the coalition members bordering on insults – he let all of that bounce off him. As often as he was asked about the main battle tanks, the word leopard couldn’t escape his lips. It was the same with Nord Stream 2, when many wanted him to cut the gas pipeline to Russia. But pushing doesn’t work for Scholz. You do the opposite: He then says absolutely nothing.

Stubbornness or successful management strategy?

His critics call it stubbornness. The chancellor considers it a successful management strategy: decisions are only discussed once they have been made. For him, decision-making belongs behind closed doors, in the smallest possible circles of those who matter. Both tanks For Scholz, there was one in particular: US President Joe Biden, whom the Chancellor values ​​like no one else on the international stage.

People like Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann from the FDP or Anton Hofreiter from the Greens, who have repeatedly attacked him in the past few weeks, are what Scholz records as a roar. “We will continue not to be impressed by public pressure and loud talk,” he says SPD-Politician when he justifies his decision in the Bundestag in the afternoon.

And addressing the people of Germany who are concerned that Germany could be dragged further into the war, he says: “Trust me. Trust the federal government.” He will continue to enable support for Ukraine – but “without the risks for our country growing in the wrong direction”. That is the Chancellor’s central message on this day.

Will Germany become a war party?

From the start, Scholz was concerned that the war could escalate to the point where it would lead to a confrontation between NATO and Ukraine. Despite all misgivings, the federal government kept making qualitatively new steps in supplying weapons – from the Panzerfaust to the anti-tank howitzer to the armored personnel carriers. And now the Leopard, perhaps the most powerful tank in the world. Is this the “game changer” that makes Germany a war party?

The new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) was asked the same thing on Wednesday in Berlin after a meeting of the Defense Committee. Pistorius catches his breath: “Everyone has to decide for themselves. Personally, I have great sympathy for the people in Germany and Europe who are worried,” he says.

Scholz names red lines – And Russia?

The federal government repeatedly emphasizes that Germany is not a party to the war under international law. The right attitude is unity with allies, but fear is a bad advisor. But what about the other side, the Russians? “Up until now, it has not been possible to say that the Russian president needed occasions to make his own escalation decisions,” says Pistorius.

On the German side, on the other hand, there are red lines, Scholz made that very clear in the Bundestag. The Chancellor rules out the delivery of combat aircraft, which is already being demanded from Ukraine. Sending German soldiers is out of the question for him anyway. “I said there will be no direct involvement of NATO soldiers in the Ukraine war. That has not been the case so far and will not be the case in the future either. And everyone can rely on that,” promises Scholz.

Distrust of Germany has returned

Those who criticized Scholz for hesitating should now be satisfied with the outcome of the tank debate. Some damage was done along the way. Germany was once again the brakeman. The old distrust resurfaced among the Eastern European partners, saying that in the end Germany could not be relied on in military matters. Despite the need for confidential decision-making, couldn’t this have been prevented by a little more open communication? Scholz has to put up with this question.

And the question of whether Scholz was more driven or a driver in the tank debate will also be discussed. In any case, he was very skeptical for a long time. Then he was pushed by the allies to the east. In the end, he contributed to the USA also supplying its Abrams tanks. That was important to Scholz in order to spread risks over the strongest possible shoulders.

Biden praised Scholz for his “leadership” on Wednesday. And he contradicts statements that he was put under undue pressure by Scholz. “Germany didn’t force me to change my mind,” he says.

Training, spare parts, ammunition – a whole package

What happens now? Germany is providing 14 Leopard 2A6, Poland also 14 of the older 2A4 version. The two countries each form the core of a Leopard battalion. The Netherlands also want to deliver tanks, Finland has declared readiness, Spain too.

“We’re starting training very quickly now. We’ll clarify the supply routes very quickly, and I think that the first Leopard tanks could be in Ukraine in about three months,” says Pistorius. It’s a whole package, including supplying the fighting Ukrainians with spare parts and ammunition. The tanks are supposed to be in Ukraine in three months.

And there can be even more tanks. The promised 14 are a “first step,” according to the government statement. Behind the scenes figures of up to 300 Leopard tanks that could be made available for Ukraine were already circulating.

The Bundeswehr will first be further weakened

However, the decision also has implications for the Bundeswehr. Military experts are already warning against losing sight of one’s own defense capability – even if they welcome the tank decision. It’s two sides of one coin.

“I very much hope that the brave Ukrainians will be able to withstand the attacks of the Russian army and restore their territorial integrity,” says the chairman of the Bundeswehr Association, Colonel André Wüstner, the German Press Agency. However, those who want to live up to their responsibilities must now broaden their horizons and “always expect the worst”. “What if we don’t succeed in defeating Putin by 2025? What do we do if he continues to threaten and escalates elsewhere?” he asks, calling for deterrence to be backed up with conventional weapons.

Wüstner warns: “Words alone are not enough, because the situation in the Bundeswehr is more precarious than ever before. This can also have an impact on recruiting young people. Who wants to serve in a Bundeswehr where there is a shortage in every nook and cranny? ” The government and parliament must “finally wake up”. It must now be explained as soon as possible when the missing device, which has also been handed over to the Ukraine, will be replaced. He mentions air defence, artillery systems, armored personnel carriers, battle tanks and ammunition production, which must be pushed ahead at the same speed as the construction of LNG terminals.


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