‘Too little, too late’: Scholz under fire for inaction on Ukraine

The German Chancellor is facing widespread anger for his refusal to send heavy weapons to Ukraine, with critics accusing him of a lack of leadership.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), speaks at a press conference.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), speaks at a press conference. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

In the past few weeks, an iconic slogan from Olaf Scholz’s election campaign has been repeatedly returning to haunt him: “Wer Führung bestellt, der kriegt sie auch” (If you order leadership, you get it.) 

Facing pressure over his lack of support for a Russian energy embargo and a refusal to send heavy weapons to Ukraine, critics from across the political spectrum – both at home and abroad – are now accusing Scholz of being anything but a decisive leader. 

Germany has so far delivered around €80 million worth of weaponry to Ukraine, but has refused to supply so-called “heavy weapons” such as battle tanks, combat aircraft, warships and submarines.

READ ALSO: Majority of Germans ‘in favour’ of delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine

Following a video conference with NATO and EU government leaders on Tuesday, the German Chancellor’s decision to call a press conference fuelled speculation that a U-turn was coming.

However, to many people’s bemusement, Scholz used the platform to simply reiterate his decision for Germany not to send heavy weapons to Ukraine.

He backed up his stance by saying that the Bundeswehr was underequipped and that the delivery of heavy weapons would lead to an uncontrollable escalation of events.

But his words – and the decision to call a press conference in order, in the words of one commentator, to “say nothing” – have provoked a fresh wave of criticism.

‘Disappointment and bitterness’

The Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk said that the German leader’s remarks were received “with great disappointment and bitterness” in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, and he poked holes in his argument that the Bundeswehr was underequipped.

“The thesis that the Bundeswehr would no longer be able to supply Ukraine with anything is not comprehensible,” Melnyk said.

He pointed out that the Bundeswehr has more than 400 Marder infantry fighting vehicles, about 100 of which are used for training and education and could be handed over to Ukraine immediately.

“Very crucial would also be the delivery of howitzers 2000.” According to Melnyk, the Bundeswehr has around 120 of these long-range artillery pieces in its inventory.

READ ALSO: Germany has ‘reached limit’ on arms shipments to Ukraine, defence minister admits

German politicians from both within and outside the coalition government are also launching criticism at the Chancellor.

FDP defence politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann attacked the Chancellor on Twitter, saying: “But you have to fight for freedom and human rights, you don’t get them for free. There was still too little substance for that today.”

Another Twitter criticism came from the CDU/CSU, with deputy Union faction leader Johann Wadephul saying: “Germany continues to deliver no heavy weapons, i.e. leaves Ukraine in the lurch.”

On Wednesday, Green Party European politician Anton Hofreiter told ZDF’s morning magazine programme that Germany’s stance could lead to the situation escalating “into an extended de facto third world war.”

“We are slowing down on sanctions, slowing down on arms deliveries, and thus risking the war dragging on longer and longer,” he said.

And politicians aren’t the only ones at odds with Scholz over his stance on Ukraine: a recent poll by Spiegel also revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the Social Democrat’s handling of the crisis amongst the German population. 

In answer to the question: “Would you currently describe Chancellor Olaf Scholz as strong in leadership?”, 65 percent of respondents answered “no”. 

This result marks a painfully ironic turnaround in public feeling towards the Chancellor, whose approval rating was at 65 percent only three months ago.

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Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Germany's investments in defence in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine will transform it into the biggest contributor to NATO in Europe, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday.

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Alongside the United States, Germany is “certainly making the largest contribution” to NATO, Scholz said in an interview with the ARD broadcaster.

Speaking at the close of a summit of leaders from the Group of Seven rich democracies, Scholz said Germany was in the process of creating “the largest conventional army within the NATO framework in Europe”.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Scholz announced a 100-billion-euro ($105-billion) fund to beef up Germany’s military defences and offset decades of chronic underfunding.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Bundestag approves €100 billion fund to beef up defences

He also promised to meet NATO’s target of spending two percent of GDP on defence, answering years of criticism from close allies that Berlin was failing to contribute enough to the alliance.

Russia’s invasion had led to a renewed conviction “that we should spend more money on defence”, Scholz said.

“We will spend an average of around 70 to 80 billion euros a year on defence over the next few years,” he said, meaning “Germany is the country that invests the most in this”.

Scholz’s announcement in February was seen as a major policy shift, upending Germany’s traditionally cautious approach to defence as a result of its post-war guilt.

Germany had steadily reduced the size of its army since the end of the Cold War from around 500,000 at the time of reunification in 1990 to just 200,000.

NATO allies are from Tuesday gathering in Madrid for a summit, where the United States is expected to announce new long-term military deployments across Europe.