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UKRAINE

German army ‘limited’ in Russia response, says commander

Germany's army can do little to support the response to the Russian invasion, its chief said said Thursday, as the country's ex-defence minister admitted that Berlin committed a "historical failure" in not bolstering itself militarily.

Alfons Mais
Land army chief Alfons Mais has pushed for the expansion of the German military. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was defence minister in Angela Merkel’s cabinet said Germany had forgotten lessons from the past that “negotiation always comes first, but we have to be militarily strong enough to make non-negotiation not an option for the other side”.

“I’m so angry at ourselves for our historical failure. After Georgia, Crimea, and Donbas, we have not prepared anything that would have really deterred Putin,” admitted Kramp-Karrenbauer, referring to incursions carried out by Russia while Merkel was in power.

Her outburst on Twitter came as the chief of the German land army, Alfons Mais, wrote on a post on the social network LinkedIn that “the options we can offer to politicians to support (NATO) are extremely limited.”

The Bundeswehr “is more or less bare,” he wrote.

Western allies had “seen it coming and were not in the position to come through with our arguments, to draw the lessons from the annexation of Crimea and to implement them,” the commander said.

“NATO territory is not directly threatened yet, even if our partners in the east feel the constantly growing pressure,” he said.

Mais said it was high time to bolster the army.

READ ALSO: Ukrainians in Europe: How will Russia’s invasion and the war impact your lives?

“When if not now is the time to … rebuild, otherwise we will not be able to carry out our constitutional mission or our obligations to our allies with any prospect of success,” Mais said.

NATO partners will hold a virtual summit Friday to discuss their response.

Around 550 German soldiers are stationed in Lithuania as part of a NATO mission and the government has pledged up to 350 additional troop reinforcements.

Germany was criticised in the build-up to the invasion for refusing to deliver lethal weapons into the crisis zone, sending instead 5,000 helmets to Ukraine.

The weapons export policy is a long-standing principle, which has its roots in the war of aggression led by the Nazis during World War II.

Instead, Germany has provided the Ukraine with upwards of two billion euros ($2.2 billion) in financial support over the last eight years.

In January, the head of the German navy, Kay-Achim Schoenbach, stepped down following his remark made at an Indian think-tank that the Russian President Vladimir Putin “is to be respected”.

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POLITICS

‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged once again to stand with Ukraine against Russia - but said Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up.

'Russia must not win this war,' says Germany's Scholz

Scholz said the war in Ukraine was the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history, but that solidarity was strong. 

“We are all united by one goal: Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must prevail,” Scholz said in the speech to the Bundestag on Thursday.

Putin thinks he can use bombs to dictate the terms for peace, the SPD politician said. 

“He’s wrong. He was wrong in judging the unity of Ukrainians, and the determination of our alliances. Russia will not dictate peace because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Scholz said it was only when Putin understands that he cannot break Ukraine’s defence capability that he would “be prepared to seriously negotiate peace”.

For this, he said, it is important to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. 

Scholz also pledged to help cut Europe free from its reliance on Russian energy. 

The Chancellor welcomed the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato. “With you at our side, Nato, Europe will become stronger and safer,” he said.

However, Scholz dampened expectations for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said on Thursday.

“It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest,” he said.

The chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

Scholz also called for other ways to help Ukraine in the short term, saying the priority was to “concentrate on supporting Ukraine quickly and pragmatically”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.

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