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German politicians criticize stalling on tanks to Ukraine

January 21, 2023

Western allies meeting in Ramstein failed to back the delivery of powerful battle tanks to help Kyiv fend off Russian forces. One German lawmaker said the lack of a decision was a major foreign policy failure by Berlin.

A group of German soldiers stand in front of the Leopard-2 battle tank at Camp Adrian Rohn, Lithuania on June 7, 2022
A group of German soldiers stand in front of the Leopard-2 battle tank at Camp Adrian Rohn, Lithuania on June 7, 2022Image: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

Germany has failed to show decisive support for Ukraine by putting off a decision on sending state-of-the-art battle tanks to the war-torn country, a senior German politician for the coalition partner the Free Democrats (FDP) has said.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the German parliament's defense committee, made the comments after Western leaders failed to reach a consensus on supplying German-made Leopard-2 tanks during talks in Ramstein, Germany.

Kyiv says the new hardware will allow the Ukrainian military to boost its firepower for a possible spring offensive against Russian forces.

"History is looking at us and Germany has, unfortunately, just failed," Strack-Zimmermann told public broadcaster ZDF late Friday.

"At the very least, it would have been the right thing to give our partners the green light," she added, referring to the desire by countries like Poland to supply the Leopard directly to Ukraine — a move that needs a sign-off by Berlin.

Strack-Zimmermann said Chancellor Olaf Scholz's communication on the tank delivery issue had been a "disaster."

On the one hand, Germany is massively supporting Ukraine but the lack of a decision to deliver the battle tanks gave a different impression, she added.

The FDP politician said Russian President Vladimir Putin would likely laugh at Germany's indecision.

FDP politicians Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann in Stuttgart on January 6th, 2023
Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann is chair of the Bundestag Defense CommitteeImage: Jens Krick/Flashpic/picture alliance

Other German lawmakers weigh in

Roderich Kiesewetter, the foreign affairs expert of the center-right Christian Democratic Party (CDU), spoke of serious foreign policy damage for Germany due to the lack of a decision.

"Germany has done a disservice to Ukraine and its own future position," he told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.

Kiesewetter said he was left speechless that Berlin has only just ordered an inventory of tanks in the Bundeswehr, saying that doing this a year after  Russia's war in Ukraine broke out was "embarrassing and frightening."

Robin Wagener, a politician of the environmentally friendly Green Party and chair of the German-Ukrainian parliamentary group, agreed that the tank inventory was "late" but a "right step."

Rolf Mützenich, the center-left Social Democrats' parliamentary group leader, said it was necessary to act in unison with the United States.

"It is important that we always take important steps together," Mützenich told the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper. "Together means above all with the US."

No deal on tanks, but hope remains

Fresh international criticism

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who is currently visiting Kyiv, called on both Germany and the United States to supply the battle tanks.

"To the Germans: Send tanks to Ukraine because they need them. It is in your own national interest that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin loses in Ukraine.

"To the Biden Administration: Send American tanks so that others will follow our lead," he said.

Meanwhile, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia issued a joint statement calling on Germany to deliver the tanks to Ukraine.

"This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly. Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard," said the statement, tweeted by Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.

What was the outcome of the Ramstein talks?

The US-led meeting of some 50 allies of Ukraine reached no decision on a rapid shipment of German Leopard-2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

Despite repeated calls for the new military hardware from Kyiv, the German government is wary of sudden moves that could cause Moscow to further escalate the conflict.

Senior US officials at the talks advised Kyiv to hold off on launching a major offensive against Russian forces, according to media reports.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said he could not say when there would be a decision on the tanks but Berlin was prepared to "move quickly" if there was consensus among allies.

"All pros and cons must be weighed very carefully," Pistorius added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the group in a video address to "speed up" arms deliveries and stressed Germany's Leopard tank was a primary need.

"Every day we make it more obvious that there is no alternative, that a decision about tanks must be made," he said.

The lack of agreement won't stop Ukrainian forces from training on Leopard-2 battle tanks in Poland, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was quoted as saying.

The allies did, however, approve billions of dollars worth of military hardware, including ample armored vehicles and munitions needed to push back Russian forces.

mm/fb (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)