The German government is expected to use the occasion of a high-level defense meeting on supporting Ukraine to announce that it will send a fleet of anti-aircraft systems to Ukraine, as it attempts to offset criticism that it has been too slow to provide military equipment to the war-torn country.
Christine Lambrecht, the defense minister, is due to pledge about 50 Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, in a speech to the representatives of 40 countries at the talks hosted by the US air force at its Europe headquarters in Ramstein, south-west Germany.
In her speech, which was leaked to German media and reported widely on Tuesday morning, Lambrecht is expected to announce a range of other measures, including participation in training Ukrainian soldiers in the use of the armored Howitzer 2000, a long-range weapon, which the Netherlands has said it will deliver to Ukraine.
In what is being referred to in German media as an “about-turn”, Germany is seeking to defend itself from harsh criticism from the US and Europe, especially from Ukraine’s government, that it has been far too hesitant to deliver heavy weapons, based , Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said, on its fears of widening the conflict. On Friday, Scholz said he was wary of sparking world war three, and of provoking Russia into using nuclear weapons if Germany made the wrong choices.
On Tuesday, the leader of the opposition conservative alliance, Friedrich Merz, accused Scholz of being “irresponsible”, arguing that not delivering the weapons would render Germany’s deterrence policies null and void, particularly in the Baltic region.
In an interview at the weekend, Merz said: “Criticism abroad is growing and Germany is increasingly isolated”.
In February, Scholz announced a €100bn (£84bn) package of measures to boost the German military in what he referred to as a Zeitenwende or new era in German foreign policy. However, a growing number of critics have accused him of failing to deliver on his promise and have argued that only when Germany plays a more active role in arming Ukraine will it be taken seriously and not viewed as being too timid towards Russia.
Other aspects of Germany’s involvement in the conflict, such as the fact it has so far officially received just under 400,000 Ukrainian refugees over the past two months, according to German police, have not been widely acknowledged. The unofficial figure is thought to be considerably higher as the newcomers are not obliged to register immediately.
At the meeting, Lloyd Austin, the US defense secretary, is expected to be joined by almost all his counterparts in the EU and the UK, as well as the Ukrainian defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, and the head of Nato, Jens Stoltenberg. Beforehand, the US government made plain its expectation that European countries would provide more weaponry. Washington has already pledged $3.2bn-worth of equipment.
The delivery of the Gepard systems has been under discussion for weeks in Germany. The Munich-based armored vehicle manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) announced its readiness weeks ago to revamp the Gepards. They were previously in the possession of the German army for whom KMW designed them in the 1970s. They would, after a short period for overhaul, be ready to be delivered to Ukraine via rail.
The systems had been destined for Brazil and Qatar, where they were to be used as part of security measures for the Summer Olympics and the Football World Cup respectively, according to the magazine Spiegel.
The government decision appears to have also been an attempt to pre-empt a motion expected to be put to the parliament this week, backed by the conservative opposition, together with the Greens and the pro-business FDP both of whom are in a three- way coalition with Scholz’s Social Democrats, (SPD), which would call on the government to finally deliver heavy weaponry, including both combat and armored personnel carriers, as well as artillery, directly to Ukraine.
On Friday, responding to criticism, he had been too hesitant and vague in his decision-making over Ukraine, including over plans to switch from supplies of Russian gas, Scholz said in an interview. He added he was not driven by fear, but by “political responsibility”, arguing he was “doing everything in order to avoid an escalation which could lead to a third world war”.
The SPD’s federal chairwoman, Saskia Esken, had said on Monday there were no plans for Germany to deliver heavy weaponry to Ukraine, but that the government wanted to participate in a so-called Ringtausch, or multilateral exchange, instead. The three coalition partners have requested a parliamentary motion which would give the green light to Germany to provide heavy weapons via an exchange between countries, primarily involving eastern European states.
The Gepards can be deployed on ground and air targets, including aeroplanes, helicopters, rockets and drones from a distance of 3.7 miles (6km).
Meanwhile other manufacturers in the armaments industry have already applied for export permits for a variety of German-made heavy weapons systems in anticipation of an increase in the German government’s willingness to act which has been influenced by a nation’s deep angst over its murderous Nazi past.
Rheinmetall, a Dusseldorf-based arms manufacturer, has applied to the German security council, under the chairmanship of Scholz, for the permission to export 100 decommissioned Marder Panzer, an infantry fighting vehicle which has been central to the mechanised infantry of the German army over the past five decades. These are expected to be renovated over the coming months, with the first ready for dispatch within the next two months. Training of soldiers to operate the armored vehicles is also expected to take several weeks.