The warning shots come closer and louder.
In a heated parliamentary session Thursday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz received clear signals from his coalition partners that they expect him to ramp up arms sales to Ukraine at an increasingly critical turning point in the war.
While his governing coalition bought him a little more time in the Bundestag debate and temporarily threw off a critical parliamentary motion alleging a lack of confidence in his military support for Ukraine, it now looks increasingly likely that Scholz will have to respond to the calls that Europe has made largest economy is taking a more determined approach to arming Kiev.
Opposition MP Florian Hahn of the centre-right Christian Social Union (CSU) scathingly railed that Germany was only “number 18 in the world” when comparing its military aid to Ukraine relative to economic output. Hahn noted that Estonia was far ahead of Germany in supplying arms rather than storing them for national defence, “Although they have a direct border with the Russian Federation.”
The centre-right opposition bloc CDU/CSU had requested a vote on a Bundestag motion calling on the government to allow the export of German main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers to Ukraine “immediately”. That would have been tantamount to a vote of no confidence in Scholz’s Ukraine strategy, because the Chancellor has repeatedly ruled out such deliveries as long as other Western allies do not deliver similarly heavy equipment.
The opposition maneuver was particularly dangerous for Scholz and his SPD because leading politicians from his coalition partners, the Greens and the FDP, have also demanded the delivery of German Leopard battle tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles.
Timing is now crucial. Ukraine is demanding more weapons while launching bold counter-offensives against the Russian invaders in the east and south of the country, while Russian President Vladimir Putin promises to send hundreds of thousands of new soldiers into the conflict and holds fake referenda on occupied territories to keep them in Russia to incorporate
A vote on arms deliveries in the Bundestag would have risked revealing fatal cracks in the unity of government and could even have led to Scholz’s defeat in parliament.
After a heated 50-minute debate, however, the majority of MPs from the SPD, Greens and FDP voted to forward the opposition motion to the Foreign Affairs and Economic Committees for further deliberation. This effectively delays a plenary vote on the text by a few weeks.
However, the government is now also threatened with renewed pressure in the coming week, since the opposition “could request a vote in the plenary session” on another Panzer-for-Ukraine motion that the CDU/CSU had originally tabled in June, but which then changed also delayed by delegating them to committee level, Roderich Kiesewetter from the CDU told POLITICO.
The foreign policy spokesman for the SPD, Nils Schmid, argued that the postponement of Thursday’s vote was justified because the opposition was merely staging a political attack to weaken government unity.
Scholz, who was not present at the debate, said in a speech to the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday that Germany would support Ukraine “with all its might: financially, economically, with humanitarian aid and also with weapons”.
Pressure from coalition partners
What was most striking about Thursday’s debate was the fierce criticism from Scholz’s own coalition. Top politicians from the Greens and FDP expressed a clear disapproval of the Chancellor’s position and stressed that they would demand more heavy weapons from Germany.
“As Free Democrats, we believe that in the current military situation, in which Ukraine is gradually recapturing its territory, we must at least deliver the Fuchs armored personnel carrier and the Marder infantry fighting vehicle – and if the situation requires it, the Leopard main battle tank as well,” said the chairwoman of the defense committee of the FDP, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann.
Crucially, Strack-Zimmermann cited the “Zeitenwende” — a historic turning point in German foreign and security policy Scholz announced in February after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — to argue that Scholz’s reluctance to send tanks , should not justify it. Other allies, such as the USA, also did not send modern tanks to Ukraine.
“A turning point means not only doing more for the Bundeswehr, but also taking the lead and not waiting for our partners to make uncomfortable decisions for us,” she said.
Green co-leader Omid Nouripour delivered a broadside against the fears of the Social Democrats that the delivery of tanks to Ukraine could trigger an “irrational” escalation by Putin – a fear recently expressed by SPD Secretary General Kevin Kühnert.
“There are arguments that I cannot follow,” said Nouripour in the Bundestag. “That our weapons would lead to an escalation presupposes that the Russian side needs excuses for escalation. That’s grotesque. Of course, they don’t need excuses, the aggression is there,” Nouripour said, referring to Putin’s announcement on Wednesday to mobilize up to 300,000 reservists.
Ascending from No. 18
According to a government list, Germany has so far sent 30 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, 10 Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers and three Mars multiple rocket launchers, as well as various light weapons to Ukraine.
After growing pressure from home and from 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 from a few days earlier , Germany can no longer do without weapons to support Ukraine.
Despite these increases, Johann Wadephul, deputy leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, argued that Germany has a historic and moral obligation to increase its support for Ukraine.
“If, in the face of the mass graves in Bucha and Izium, we seriously say: ‘Never again! Germany has to ensure that something like this never happens again – then we have to go a decisive step further here,” he said.