Germany's Olaf Scholz defends record on arms to Ukraine
The German chancellor addressed the German parliament's lower chamber on Wednesday and said Berlin would supply state-of-the-art air defense weaponry to Ukrainian forces.
In his speech to lawmakers, Olaf Scholz outlined Germany's approach to the Ukraine war and its effects on the wider economy and public spending.
Defense of Berlin's actions so far
The German government, which was outlining its budget on Wednesday, has faced criticism for its perceived reluctance to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine.
Ahead of Scholz's speech, opposition leader Friedrich Merz of the Christian Democrats had asked the chancellor to set aside his prepared text and tell parliament what weapons he planned to deliver to the country.
Defending Germany's record, Scholz said Berlin had begun to send weapons to Ukraine soon after the war began.
He said Germany sent 15 million rounds of ammunition, 100,000 hand grenades and more than 5,000 anti-tank mines so far.
In the weeks to come, Scholz said Germany would provide more weapons including the IRIS-T anti-aircraft system.
The IRIS-T, developed in collaboration by Germany with other NATO partners, has the ability to target and shoot down other air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles. The chancellor also said Germany would supply Ukraine with radar systems to help locate enemy artillery.
Meanwhile, Scholz said Germany had been clear about its priorities, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin must be stopped from achieving his aims.
"Putin mustn't achieve his goals. He mustn't get away with this military onslaught against another country," Scholz said. "This is imperialism, which we in Europe won't accept."
The German government has so far also agreed to supply two types of heavy weapons: 50 Gepard (Cheetah) anti-aircraft armored vehicles and seven armored howitzer 2000s. Ukraine is also demanding battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.
In addition, Germany plans to deliver four multiple rocket launchers to Ukraine, the dpa news agency reported on Wednesday.
Before addressing the military spending, Scholz said the government was taking a number of steps to ease the burden of rising prices for the German public.
Weapons aid crucial, but will 'take months'
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also said Ukraine needed weapons such artillery, drones and air defense weapons to defend itself from Russia's assault.
"We are defending the people of Ukraine the best we can," Baerbock told lawmakers in parliament.
She said Scholz's announcement that Berlin would send IRIS-T air defense systems to Ukraine was one means of support — but she also acknowledged that the delivery would "take months" to complete.
Shift in approach to military spending
Scholz said in a government statement to the Bundestag on February 27 that the budget would be endowed with the one-time special fund of €100 billion ($107 billion) for defense projects.
The German chancellor said at the time that Russia's invasion of Ukraine had led to a "Zeitenwende," or turning point, in Germany's funding of the military.
He also said more than 2% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) would be invested in defense, to match NATO's targets for its member states.
The announcement heralded a major policy shift after decades of German military restraint rooted in Germany's bloody 20th-century history.
Immediately after Russia's invasion of its neighbor, the head of the German army said his own troops were poorly equipped for military action and that he was "fed up" with Germany's neglect of the military.
The money is expected to be used for a range of projects, including encrypted radios, new warships and a short-range air defense system.
Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht also said on Wednesday that Germany would purchase 60 Chinook CH-47F cargo helicopters.
The German military has been trying for years to secure the Chinook helicopters to replace its aging cargo helicopter fleet.
"With this model we are strengthening our ability to cooperate in Europe," Lambrecht said in a speech to parliament.
In a response to criticism about its arms supplies to Kyiv, Berlin says it is also supplying weapons indirectly by sending equipment to other NATO allies.
These countries, such as the Czech Republic, can in turn deliver their older weapons — mainly of Soviet design and familiar to Ukraine's military — to Kyiv.
rs, rc/sms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)