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BERLIN — Ukraine defends Europe’s security in its battle against Russia, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has said, expressing “hope” that Kyiv’s latest military successes could hasten the end of the war .
Speaking to POLITICO in an interview with the German Defense Ministry, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician promised to continue to support Kyiv militarily against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion “as long as ‘it will have to’.
She also argued that Germany must learn from the mistakes of past years and adopt a national security strategy that puts more emphasis on military needs.
The interview preceded Lambrecht is due to deliver a keynote speech on Germany’s upcoming national security strategy on Monday morning in Berlin.
“Our values, democracy, freedom and security are upheld in Ukraine, because we see that President Putin has a strategy to sow fear and also to threaten to go further,” Lambrecht said, acknowledging that this has direct implications for the EU. and the NATO military alliance and these implications must also be realized in Western Europe.
“When I talk to my colleagues on the eastern flank, I get the impression that they react differently to this aggression and this war than we in Berlin and Paris,” she said.
Lambrecht’s words are remarkably candid for a senior German Social Democrat politician: the SPD made a historic shift in military aid to Ukraine at the start of the Russian war in February, but the party was less direct so far when it comes to drawing a link between Kyiv’s fight against the Russian invasion and the security interests of Germany or the West.
Notably, the remarks evoke the famous phrase of former defense minister Peter Struck, who defended Berlin’s military involvement in Afghanistan in 2002 by saying that Germany’s security is “also defended in the Hindu Kush “.
Lambrecht’s comments also underscore how far she has come in military aid to Ukraine, after she was widely mocked in January for touting the delivery of 5,000 helmets to Kyiv as “a very clear signal”. Support.
The 57-year-old politician spoke just as Ukrainian troops were beginning to make quick and unexpected gains in a counter-offensive east of the city of Kharkiv, prompting the withdrawal of Russian forces.
Lambrecht said “Ukraine’s recent successes give me hope” that Russia could be forced to end its war, adding: “We are very impressed with the bravery with which the Ukrainians are fighting.” She stressed that “it is clear that we will support Ukraine for as long as necessary, even if this war lasts for weeks or months”.
Berlin stepped up military supplies to Kyiv ahead of the summer, including delivering tanks and anti-aircraft howitzers and promising high-tech air defense missiles. Lambrecht said Germany was training Ukrainian soldiers in demining operations and that Berlin was engaged in “very concrete” talks with Warsaw to set up a maintenance center in eastern Poland so that it could quickly repair the mines. weapons delivered such as howitzers if required.
However, Lambrecht’s remarks contrast sharply with the fact that she has ruled out major new deliveries of heavy weapons to Ukraine, arguing that the stocks of the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, are depleted and that Berlin must withhold its weapons to ensure its own defense capabilities as well as obligations within NATO.
“If Lambrecht – rightly – concludes that our security is defended in Ukraine, then it is also important that she and Chancellor Scholz credibly confirm this with appropriate deliveries of armored vehicles to Ukraine,” Roderich said. Kiesewetter, a defense policy legislator from Germany’s main opposition party, the center-right CDU.
While Scholz and Lambrecht point out that Berlin will not deliver heavy battle tanks like the Leopard, or infantry fighting vehicles like the Marder – arguing that no other allies, including the United States, are sending such Western tanks in Ukraine – critics like Kiesewetter argue that Lambrecht could immediately supply Kyiv with lighter armored vehicles such as the Dingo or Fuchs, which would provide Ukrainian soldiers with much-needed protection as they advance against Russian troops on the move. east and south.
France already shipped “a significant amount” of these armored vehicles in Ukraine. Yet in the interview, Lambrecht claimed that she was sworn to ensure Germany’s defense capabilities at all times. Moreover, it blamed the frugal defense budget policies of previous governments, arguing that many of the vehicles its military has on paper are not operational in reality.
“I would love to be able to give Ukraine a lot more,” she said. “If the Bundeswehr had not been so cut up in previous years, it would have been possible. But now it is the consequence of this irresponsible economy.”
Yet criticism of Lambrecht goes both ways, as she served in the previous German government – first as parliamentary state secretary in the finance ministry, then as justice and business minister. family. While his direct influence over the defense budget may have been limited in those jobs, it was Scholz who oversaw budget matters as vice chancellor and finance minister from 2018 to 2021.
Lambrecht pointed out that Scholz had initiated “moderate” increases in defense spending during those years, but acknowledged that it had not been enough.
“We have been used to peace for a long time,” she said. “But since 2014 at the latest, since the Russian invasion of Crimea, it’s been clear that we need to focus more on national and alliance defense… It’s something that has been neglected – even if we saw this aggression in 2014. For a long time we didn’t realize that we, as the Bundeswehr, weren’t as prepared as we should have been.”
Scholz promoted Lambrecht to defense minister when he formed his new government last December, but the choice was questioned early on given his limited defense expertise in a tense geopolitical environment.
Lambrecht’s criticism only grew after his much-derided statement about helmets. And when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, the minister found herself in the line of fire as the German government was lambasted internationally for its wavering military support. The media described her as the ‘zero interest minister’ and it emerged that she had taken her adult son with her in a government helicopter for a holiday trip, sparking calls from the opposition that she resign.
Lambrecht withstood the criticism and walked on, also thanks to Scholz’s support. And in the interview with POLITICO on Friday, she sought not only to showcase military expertise, but also underlined her ambitions to modernize the chronically underfunded and under-equipped Bundeswehr with the giant €100 billion special fund. that the government adopted before the summer. Pause.
She also pledged to tackle the Bundeswehr’s bureaucratic and often inefficient supply system. “Here at the ministry, every stone is challenged in terms of sourcing regulations so that we can get even faster,” she said.
Lambrecht also criticized one of his predecessors as defense minister – Ursula von der Leyen of the CDU, now president of the European Commission – who had come under heavy criticism and even investigation. parliamentarian over dubious contracts with well-paid consultants during his tenure.
“Of course, something needs to be reformed in the procurement system. But I don’t need to hire expensive consultants to do that,” Lambrecht said. “We can very well do it ourselves thanks to our in-house expertise.”
No more German veto
Lambrecht argued that the time Zeitenwende The change in defense and security policy announced by Scholz in February also meant that “we must be ready to defend our values, even by military means”.
This included a sustained commitment to NATO’s goal of spending 2% of national economic output. “We have to be aware that it costs money,” she said.
Lambrecht also spoke out in favor of more joint arms development projects with EU partners, but stressed that Berlin must be prepared to give up its veto power when it came to to sell these weapons to third countries – a request that is likely to clash with Economy Minister Robert Habeck of the Green Party, whose ministry oversees export authorizations and has pledged to apply a stricter line on arms deals.
“Germany’s right of ‘veto’ over such projects must be questioned and adjusted,” Lambrecht said. “It’s not about handing us over to a rogue state. But if I do such a project with my allies, who share the same values as me, and if I’m the only country there that has a different position on an export, then you have to wonder if that may actually be the obstacle.”
Regarding China, Lambrecht said it was important that Germany’s new national security strategy, which is due early next year, addresses Beijing’s role in global security and ensures that businesses do not become vulnerable due to over-reliance on trade with China.
“It is important that the German government not only has an internal assessment of China, but also represents it publicly and clearly states what it expects, what it intends to do,” she said. “And I can’t imagine any sane company just ignoring that.”
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