The chancellor cannot get this debate under control, despite all the communication offensives. Also because Olaf Scholz cannot express everything as openly as some would like.
Everything revolves around the question of what he has agreed at the top level among the NATO countries, whether there is an agreement not to deliver western-style battle tanks or armored personnel carriers to Ukraine – so as not to provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin that you yourself become a party to the war. So whether you have drawn your own red line here, but prefer to keep it secret from the public.
The Parliamentary Defense Secretary of State Siemtje Möller had said on ZDF that it was the “uniform position” of the western NATO member states not to deliver any Western-style armored personnel carriers or main battle tanks. Initially, a NATO spokesman said that decisions about deliveries were a national matter. But the impression is reinforced that Möller may have blurted out what Scholz made clear internally.
The federal government concedes that there have been informal discussions about what should and shouldn’t be delivered. The second category clearly includes German Leopard 2 tanks because, unlike the Soviet-designed T72 tanks, which Poland and the Czech Republic, for example, leave in large numbers to Ukraine, they could be a real game changer in the war against Russian tanks.
The starting point of the debate was the special meeting of the Defense Committee on May 13, at which Scholz explained the current state of affairs for around 40 minutes. However, since the whole thing was overshadowed by the premature departure of several FDP MPs who were not satisfied with the Chancellor’s statements, a crucial point was somewhat overlooked.
Scholz made it clear internally that it had been agreed with Great Britain, France and the USA, among others, not to deliver any battle tanks directly to Ukraine for the time being.
The SPD chairman in the defense committee, Wolfgang Hellmich, then said in front of the door of the hall that it was clear that, for example, no Leopard battle tanks would be delivered.
But it was hardly noticed because of the scandal initiated by Marcus Faber, the defense policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, which led to his resignation under pressure from the party and parliamentary group leadership.
But according to the participants in the meeting, the word “armoured vehicle” was not mentioned here – so the question now is whether there are other agreements that Scholz pushed for in the NATO circle? Especially in his SPD there are many skeptics when it comes to heavy arms deliveries. “He is obliged to full disclosure here,” the Union emphasizes that the whole thing could have consequences for the chancellor.
He wants to prevent Vladimir Putin from classifying Germany and other NATO states as warring parties at all costs. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, he warned that from his point of view Russia was a “great power with high nuclear armaments”. In the case of the chancellor, there is also the fact that he is trying to reach a ceasefire on all channels, including through direct talks with Putin. He insists on a deliberative course.
In government circles, only very vague answers were given to a Tagesspiegel query about agreements in the NATO circle and internal communication about them. “There is a common understanding between partners and allies that national arms deliveries to Ukraine should support the defense of the country as quickly and effectively as possible.”
“There is also a common understanding that arms deliveries should not be included in the conflict with Russia.” However, this does indicate that there are corresponding informal agreements.
Above all, Ukraine would like 100 Marder-type armored personnel carriers, which the Rheinmetall Group could gradually deliver. But although Economics Minister Robert Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) are in favor, according to information from the Tagesspiegel, the Federal Security Council, which Chancellor Scholz chairs, has not yet made a decision on this.
An inquiry to the Federal Press Office as to whether there had been agreements at the top level in the NATO circle not to supply Ukraine with infantry fighting vehicles in addition to battle tanks remained unanswered.
The Union is increasingly outraged, especially since there is a joint Bundestag decision to also deliver such heavy weapons, which could now be overturned by informal agreements between the Chancellors in the NATO circle.
“The federal government gives a chaotic picture of decisions and communication,” said Union parliamentary group leader Johann Wadephul (CDU) when asked by the Tagesspiegel. “And this on days when Russia is bombing 40 Ukrainian cities. The chancellor is obviously the prisoner of his group and unable to set the political course.”
Anyone who supplies anti-aircraft tanks with twin 30 mm cannons – Wadephul means the approved delivery of around 30 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks here – can also supply Marder with a 20 mm on-board cannon. “It was and is all about these 100 or so armored personnel carriers that Rheinmetall could have delivered long ago. How long will the Greens and the FDP look at this?” Wadephul says.
What is emerging: Leopard main battle tanks should under no circumstances be delivered to Ukraine. Leopard tanks are only to be sold by the Bundeswehr (which, however, has hardly any to give away) and industry as part of the ring swap deals with Eastern European partners, who in return leave their tanks, such as the T72 type, to the Ukraine.
“They don’t want infantry fighting vehicles,” says coalition circles. But since Germany has hardly delivered anything so far, Poland in particular is angry. President Andrzej Duda accuses Scholz of breaking his word – no tanks from Germany have arrived here so far.
“There is an unbelievable cacophony,” can be heard from the ranks of the traffic light coalition. Clear announcements are urgently needed. It takes three years to build a Leopard tank, and the question now is when and how many replacement deliveries will be made to Poland.
The chairwoman of the defense committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), is now all the more energetic in insisting on a central arms and tanks coordinator in the chancellery, who is as independent as possible to deal with the wishes of Ukraine, the ring exchanges and the applications of the industry coordinate and set delivery times plus details for the training of Ukrainian soldiers. In an interview with the Tagesspiegel, Strack-Zimmermann emphasizes that you shouldn’t lose any more time now. “We finally need someone to take charge of this.”