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Germany Changes Stance and Votes to Send Heavy Weapons to Ukraine

For a long time, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) refused to commit to providing heavy weapons to Ukraine. His fear was that such deliveries would jeopardize Germany’s ability to defend NATO-partners and its own country. However, after the Christian Democratic CDU submitted a parliamentary motion to intensify arms deliveries, the governing coalition followed suit with its own proposal, calling for both the supply of heavy weapons and the training of Ukrainian soldiers on western weapons systems. On Thursday, April 29th, the German Bundestag voted overwhelmingly in favor of the motion, with 586 votes in favor, 100 votes against. Only 7 voters abstained.

The motion by the SPD, the Greens, and the liberal Free Democrat Party (FDP) explicitly condemns Russia’s war and envisions “expanding the delivery to include heavy weapons and complex systems, for example, as part of the ‘ring exchange,’ without jeopardizing Germany’s ability to defend the alliance.” The so-called ‘ring exchange’ is a program in which NATO partners, that still use heavy weapons of Soviet or Russian design, will receive replacements of Western design from Germany if they decide to deliver their heavy weapons to Ukraine.

In addition to the ‘ring exchange,’ it has now been announced that “Gepard” anti-aircraft tanks will be handed over directly to Ukraine. The “Gepard” was taken out of service by the Bundeswehr in 2010 and is considered a very complex system. Training Ukrainian soldiers on the “Gepard” could take months. However, no commitment has yet been made regarding the delivery of “Leopard I” main battle tanks.

The training of Ukrainian soldiers on western weapon systems is also part of the plan, specifically the “training of the operation of the delivered weapon systems in Germany or on NATO territory,” according to the government parties’ motion.

In the weeks before, not only had the CDU pushed for arms deliveries, but the arms manufacturer Rheinmetall offered Ukraine the sale of 100 decommissioned “Marder” infantry fighting vehicles. However, this offer was not necessarily welcomed by the government. Saskia Esken, the SPD’s federal chairwoman, accused the arms company of pursuing “its own interests” and simply announcing “what they could deliver right now.” She stressed that “the ring exchange is now a priority.” Specifically, this meant the possibility of Slovenia and Slovakia supplying Ukraine with Soviet-made T72 main battle tanks, in return for which they would receive “Marder” infantry fighting vehicles from Germany as part of the ring exchange.

Expectations outside Germany have also been growing in recent weeks. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said during a visit to Berlin that there were “big countries that could do more,” adding, “we expect strong leadership from Germany.” The “best humanitarian aid these days,” Kallas said, “is military aid to Kyiv.”

Critical voices, such as Sahra Wagenknecht of Die Linke (The Left) warned, however, that the government would “break a taboo by delivering heavy weaponry” to Ukraine. In doing so, “Germany factually becomes a war party,” Wagenknecht said. “While Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov warns against the outbreak of a third world war and considers NATO arms deliveries to Ukraine as legitimate targets for attack, Germany continues to pour oil on the fire. Has the government lost its mind?”

Also, the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is opposing the delivery of weapons to Ukraine. A joint statement by the two co-chairmen Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupalla referred to the planned deliveries as “a dangerous overbidding competition that threatens to drag Germany further and further into the war.” The AfD “fundamentally rejects the delivery of weapons to the war zone” and warns against “sleepwalking into processes that at a certain point can no longer be controlled.”

“Instead of talking about more and more new arms deliveries, the German government must now launch a broad-based diplomatic initiative, at the end of which there must be peace talks between Ukraine and Russia under international mediation,” the AfD statement concluded.

David Boos is an organist, documentary filmmaker, and writer for The European Conservative and other publications.

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