Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed on Wednesday that Germany would be delivering an initial 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks to Ukraine and allowing partner countries to re-export their own German-made heavy battle tanks to the country.
Speaking at the start of a question-and-answer session in the German Bundestag, Scholz said, "It is right that we act closely with our international partners to support Ukraine — financially, with humanitarian aid, but also with weapons deliveries. Now we can say that, in Europe, it is us and Britain who have made the most weapons available for Ukraine. … Germany will always be at the forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine."
The chancellor insisted he was right in maintaining his cautious approach, taking the time to negotiate the details of battle tank deliveries rather than rushing ahead unilaterally. He reiterated the scope of German assistance, which would include tanks, logistics, ammunition, and maintenance, as well as training Ukrainian tank crews in Germany.
"With everything that we do, we must always make very clear that we will do what is necessary and possible to support Ukraine, but at the same time to prevent an escalation of the war to a war between Russia and NATO," Scholz added.
German parties' positions on tanks for Ukraine
The largest opposition party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has been calling for the delivery of tanks to Ukraine for several months and has made the chancellor's perceived hesitancy its main line of attack against the government.
Jürgen Hardt, the foreign policy spokesperson for the CDU, picked up on Scholz's promise not to "provoke" war with Russia, and asked how sending tanks was less of a provocation than sending the other military hardware that Germany had already sent.
In response, the chancellor said he had deliberately avoided the word "provocation" since "that was the word of the Russian imperialist war of aggression."
"But I will say what the difference was," he said, before arguing that any other course of action than the one he had taken — namely a step-by-step approach in coordination with international partners — would not have served peace and security in Europe.
Petr Bystron, foreign policy spokesperson of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), said the chancellor's decision had "thrown the fundamental principles of Germany's post-war foreign policy overboard." He contrasted Scholz's position with his SPD predecessors in the West German chancellery: Helmut Schmidt and Willy Brandt, who had led a policy of rapprochement with the Soviet Union. "You will go down in history as the chancellor who trampled on this legacy," he told Scholz.
Scholz countered by saying that Russia's attack on Ukraine was what broke the great political achievements that Brandt and Schmidt stood for.
Scholz's coalition partners, the environmentalist Greens and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), have long expressed support for sending more weapons to Ukraine, which has led some political observers to conclude that what Scholz feared most was alienating the pacifist faction in his own party base.
German public split on tank deliveries
Later in the day, opposition leader Friedrich Merz (CDU) reiterated his own criticism of the chancellor's perceived reluctance to give the go-ahead for tank deliveries.
Scholz has maintained that his cautious approach reflects the reluctance in the German population. A poll released last week showed that Germans were fairly evenly split on the issue, with 46% in favor of sending battle tanks to Ukraine, and 43% against.
The survey, conducted by pollster infratest dimap, found that support among SPD voters for sending tanks was slightly more in favor of sending tanks: 49% wanted to send Leopards, with 40% opposed.
The party supporters most strongly in favor of were those of the CDU, of whom 66% thought Germany should send Leopards, closely followed (somewhat surprisingly, given its roots in 1980's pacifist activism) by Green Party supporters, 61% of whom were in favor.
The neoliberal FDP, meanwhile, was exactly evenly split — 48% in favor and 48% against. That in itself was a surprise since one of Scholz's loudest critics in the last few months has been the FDP's Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chairperson of the Bundestag's defense committee, who has visited Ukraine several times in the past year.
Supporters of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), meanwhile, remain the most vehemently opposed to tank deliveries: Some 84% opposed the move.
The smallest party in the Bundestag, the socialist Left Party, is also against arms deliveries to Ukraine. Its co-leader Dietmar Bartsch told the Bundestag on Wednesday: "The goal cannot be to get Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine within three months. The goal should be to end the war in three months' time."
Edited by: Rina Goldenberg
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