German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is becoming increasingly irritated when accused of not doing enough to help the Ukrainian army defend itself against Russia. It’s like a mantra for the opposition, reminding him every chance he gets that kyiv still hasn’t received the heavy weaponry promised by Berlin. Pressured by these criticisms, this Wednesday the Social Democratic leader defended himself more vehemently than usual in the Bundestag and took the opportunity to announce that Germany will deliver several units of its best anti-aircraft defense system, the IRIS-T, to Ukraine.
Produced by the German arms manufacturer Diehl Defense, the IRIS-T is one of the most modern surface-to-air defense systems in the world. It can shoot down fighter jets, helicopters, cruise missiles and drones up to 40 kilometers away. “This will allow Ukraine to protect entire cities from Russian air strikes,” Scholz assured in Parliament during a session devoted to budgets, but which inevitably turned to war in a country whose capital is only a two-hour flight from Berlin. . “It is the most modern defense system that Germany has,” he added.
Demands for heavy weapons from kyiv have intensified since Moscow concentrated on the east and south of the country after withdrawing from the capital. Germany has become the target of criticism for its hesitation in authorizing shipments or carrying them out. Until just a month ago, Scholz refused to send tanks to Ukraine on the grounds that an escalation that would threaten an atomic war between Russia and NATO had to be avoided. Finally, he approved the shipment of 50 Gepard tanks with anti-aircraft capability, which according to kyiv have not yet reached their destination.
The leader of the opposition, the Christian Democrat Friedrich Merz, accused Scholz on Wednesday of not keeping his promises regarding arms deliveries and of using ambiguous expressions about the conflict. “Mr. Chancellor, why don’t you say clearly that Ukraine must win this war?” He snapped at one point in the debate. It has not gone unnoticed that Scholz always talks that Russia must not win the war, but he avoids saying that Ukraine must win it. He uses expressions like Ukraine “must survive”.
Merz, in a very harsh tone, reminded the chancellor that “more than a month since the Bundestag’s decision, Ukraine has not received the promised weapons” and accused his government of using false excuses. Last week, Deputy Defense Minister Siemtje Möller said the Marder tanks the Ukrainian military is asking for to transport soldiers on the battlefield cannot be shipped because NATO countries have agreed not to deliver Western-made tanks. Her explanation provoked the anger of the Christian Democrats, who unceremoniously branded it a “lie”. Agreed or not, the truth is that no country has yet sent modern Western-made tanks to Ukraine.
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Warsaw accuses Berlin of lying
So far Berlin has been trying to use an exchange system called Ringtausch (circular swap) with Eastern European countries, so that they send their Soviet-made tanks to the Ukraine and then Germany replaces them with more modern Western equipment from its own Army or from German arms factories. The apparently simple system has already caused a first crisis. Polish President Andrzej Duda accused Berlin last week of going back on its word by sending them Leopard tanks in exchange for its Soviet-era T-72s. He said he felt “cheated” and “very disappointed”. A Scholz spokesman had to come out to deny that any agreement had been reached. “They were told that in principle yes, but that we would have to see what we can supply,” he explained. Apparently the low stock of the Leopard tanks that Warsaw wanted, the most advanced in the German Army, prevented the shipment.
Berlin has closed an agreement with the Czech Republic for it to receive 14 Leopard tanks in exchange for sending several units of its T-72s to Ukraine. And just yesterday another exchange with Greece was announced. Athens has Soviet BMP-1 main battle tanks that it bought in the 1990s and is now going to send to Ukraine. Berlin has to cover the gap with German Marder armored personnel carriers. The goal is to supply weapons from the Soviet Union’s old stocks as soon as possible so that they can go into combat as soon as possible to contain the Russian invasion. The use of Western equipment would require training and delay the start-up of the equipment, experts explain.
Germany, like the United States, balances not to provoke Russia with the aid it is sending to kyiv. US President Joe Biden has announced that he will send advanced and precise missile systems, but with a radius of action that does not allow reaching Russian territory. Despite this, the Kremlin has already warned that Washington increases the risk of a “direct confrontation.” Berlin, for its part, focuses on defensive equipment, such as the state-of-the-art system announced Wednesday by the chancellor, although the Army is ready to also send four of its 22 copies of the Mars II rocket launcher, capable of hitting targets at 80 kilometers with great precision and in any weather condition. According to German media, the delivery could take place at the end of this month.