A detailed list of the latest requests for German security assistance from Ukraine has been published in two major German newspapers (Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel, February 5). The Ukrainian embassy and the military attache’s office in Berlin addressed this request to the German Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defense respectively. Citing the “highly tense situation and threats of Russian aggression”, Ukraine calls for “prompt assistance and urgent purchase” of: modern medium-range air defense and missile defense systems, anti-drone guns , automatic cannons, ammunition for the above-mentioned weapons, night vision devices, surveillance cameras, electronic tracking systems, as well as 100,000 helmets and an equal number of body armor for Ukrainian volunteers from territorial defense (the quantities requested have not leaked with the exception of helmets and vests) .
Ukraine sent its updated requests for lethal and non-lethal military equipment to Germany and some other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and European Union countries on February 1. . According to the Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikovthe market should allow Ukrainian forces to raise the price of Russian aggression, thereby reducing its likelihood or helping to prevent it (Ukrinform, February 3).
Berlin is certain to refuse all lethal items and most non-lethal items for German ideological reasons. However, Berlin would struggle to meet some key Ukrainian needs even if it had wished to meet them. Ukraine’s request inadvertently brought to light some of the shortcomings of the Bundeswehr’s equipment. According to domestic press accounts, the German army is itself short of modern air defense systems and the types of ammunition that Ukraine demands. Ukraine had previously expressed interest in acquiring German corvettes, but the German Navy itself needs such ships. Based on Ukraine’s current request, the German government would only supply helmets and body armor (100,000 of each – see above), but the Ministry of Defense inventory search determined that he could find only 5,000 helmets and no vests (Die Welt, February 2, 5; see part one in EDM, February 3).
Germany’s arms export policy is restrictive in theory, with major shortcomings in practice (see below), but is relentlessly prohibitive in the case of Ukraine; and it impedes, where it can, arms transfers to Ukraine by third parties.
Exploiting its veto power under the NATO Supply and Support Agency, Berlin blocked Ukraine’s purchase of 90 anti-sniper rifles from the United States (at a time when the forces Russians and proxies used snipers to kill Ukrainian soldiers in violation of the armistice (Ukrinform, February 3).
At the bilateral level, Germany is currently blocking Estonia’s donation of nine medium-caliber howitzers to Ukraine. These coins inherited from the USSR moved from the German Democratic Republic to reunified Germany to Finland to Estonia, requiring German permission for any re-export. Germany is seizing the legal opportunity to block this Estonian donation to Ukraine. The Social Democratic Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is filibustering (see EDM, February 3), while the technical decision rests with the Ministry of Economy, led by the pacifist Greens. According to the new German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (social democrat), Ukraine cannot be allowed to receive even these parts inherited from the USSR, because they are not only lethal but also “not defensive” (Funke Press Group, February 6, 2008).
Berlin’s policy of denying Ukraine’s right to self-defense – indeed, unilateral disarmament – dates back to an early phase of Russia’s war against Ukraine. He also helped Barack Obama’s administration impose its own arms embargo on Ukraine, citing the German example for justification.
According to the Chancellor at the time Angela Merkelbest foreign policy adviser (2005-2017), Christopher Heusgen, in a retrospective interview (Der Tagesspiegel, February 7, 2022), “the decision not to supply arms to Ukraine was taken following the Minsk agreement, in order to calm the conflict. It worked for a while. Heusgen, now the new chairman of the annual Munich security conference, cautiously suggests that “Germany should think about how to strengthen Ukraine’s defensive capacity.”
The government in Berlin is not indifferent to arms transfers from NATO member countries to Ukraine. The German government has criticized Ukraine’s use of Turkish-made armed drones (German politicians are currently deep in heartbreaking soul-searching over the legitimacy and self-imposed limits of the Bundeswehr’s use of combat drones) . Last month, a British transport plane carrying anti-armour missiles to Ukraine bypassed German airspace, instead taking a longer route, fearing German authorities would block or delay overflight clearance ( see EDM, February 3).
Germany is ranked as the world’s fourth largest exporter of military equipment, with just under 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion) in exports in 2021 (Süddeutsche Zeitung, February 4, 2022).
German policy prohibits exports of military equipment to non-NATO or European Union members in theaters of conflict, but the wording contains loopholes and leaves room for interpretation.
Decisions may be motivated by political, commercial or interventionist humanitarian considerations. For example, in recent years Germany has delivered weapons to the theaters of conflict in the Middle East: submarines to Israel, frigates and air defense systems to Egypt, planes to Saudi Arabia during the war in Yemen. or anti-armour missile systems to the Kurdish peshmergas against the Islamic State in Iraq (anti-terrorism and humanitarian intervention). The new coalition government in Berlin, more leaning towards leftist-pacifist moralizing than its predecessor, plans to tighten restrictions on German exports of military equipment.
In the case of Ukraine, however, the new German government is set to continue the old policy of withholding military support, regardless of Ukraine’s status as a NATO candidate country and to the EU, and despite – or, indeed, because of – Russia’s unquestionable aggression. against Ukraine.