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Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, speaks at the Bundestag in Berlin on April 6, 2022.

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, speaks at the Bundestag in Berlin on April 6, 2022. (Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz faces intense pressure from members of his ruling coalition to step up deliveries of heavy weapons such as tanks and fighter jets to help Ukraine fight Russian troops.

After initiating an historic reversal in Germany’s previously frugal defense policy in the early stages of the war, Scholz has since appeared hesitant to go beyond initial supplies of protective equipment, munitions and rockets to take out Russian tanks and aircraft.

His cagey stance has revived concerns that Germany lacks the resolve to thwart the Kremlin due to the country’s reliance on Russian energy and a history of engaging with Moscow. The criticism is now getting closer to Scholz as members of all three parties in his governing alliance call for more action.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a senior lawmaker from the Free Democrats, accused Scholz of dragging his feet on sending more weapons and said she was surprised by his caution.

“We see that Ukraine is in an unimaginable war, which also leaves no time to hesitate or think,” Strack-Zimmermann, who chairs the lower house of parliament’s defense committee, said Thursday in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio.

“You should think, but very quickly,” she added. “It was the chancellor who spoke of a sea change, a turning point in history.”

While Scholz has pushed back against the criticism and vowed to support Ukraine’s military, pressure is growing. Sending heavy weapons to Ukraine was supported by 55% of the respondents in an Infratest Dimap poll of 1,226 voters for public broadcaster ARD. Just 37% were against, according to the survey published Thursday and conducted April 11-12.

Scholz’s circumspection is starting to undermine Germany’s image abroad as a reliable ally, according to Anton Hofreiter, a veteran Green lawmaker who chairs parliament’s Europe committee.

“The problem is in the chancellery,” Hofreiter told RTL televison. “We must now finally begin supplying Ukraine with what it needs -- and that includes heavy weapons.”

Ukraine has appeared ruffled by the country’s stance. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a former foreign minister who has been accused of maintaining close ties in the past to the Kremlin, didn’t travel to Kyiv this week, saying it became clear that he wasn’t welcome. That touched off a backlash in Berlin.

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba struck a conciliatory tone on Thursday. “Ukraine is deeply respectful toward Germany,” he said, adding that this respect extends to the country’s president. The spat would be addressed through diplomatic channels, he added.

A plea for action is also coming from Scholz’s own party. Michael Roth, a former deputy foreign minister, said he changed his mind over delivering heavy weapons after a visit this week to Ukraine, including meeting a young soldier who lost a leg.

“Ukraine now needs all weapons so that it can defend itself even better,” Roth, a Social Democratic lawmaker who heads parliament’s foreign affairs committee, told ARD television on Wednesday.

Still, Roth defended Scholz, saying the delivery of heavy weapons was complicated not by Scholz but by logistical and practical hurdles, echoing comments from the chancellor. And most other countries have stopped short of handing over planes, especially fighter jets.

“We are delivering, we have delivered and we will deliver,” Scholz said in an interview with RBB radio on Wednesday, adding that Germany first had to liaise with Ukraine and its NATO allies before there could be any decision to deliver more weapons.

The chancellor said Germany had agreed with Ukraine on a list of requested weapons and other military gear, without giving details. Asked if the impression was correct that Germany won’t be sending any battle tanks or war planes out of its own military stocks anytime soon, Scholz avoided a clear answer.

Germany’s position is that operators of weapons such as Marder and Leopard tanks need training before they could be used effectively by Ukraine’s military. Instead, the government has suggested Poland and other eastern European partners could supply Soviet-era equipment and Germany can replace those with more modern gear.

The government has also said Germany must maintain minimum capabilities to fulfill defense duties, and military equipment is tight after years of limited investment.

In response to the calls for increased weapons deliveries, Rolf Muetzenich, the head of the SPD’s parliamentary caucus, said Thursday that it’s wrong for people to “demand unprecedented decisions without having to answer for them.”

“There are no easy answers, also when it comes to the delivery of heavy military equipment to Ukraine,” Muetzenich said. “Anyone who claims that is acting irresponsibly.”

Bloomberg’s Iain Rogers contributed to this report.


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