Germany reiterated its refusal to send defensive weapons to Ukraine that according to Kyiv would help the country fend off a potential Russian invasion. This comes as part of a new German peace policy that aims at restricting arms exports and fostering peace via diplomacy.
German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, speaking in Kyiv on a tour that next takes her to Moscow, said on Monday (18 January) she hoped tensions with Russia over Ukraine could be solved by diplomacy, but she warned that Moscow would suffer if it does attack its neighbour.
“Each further aggressive act will have a high price for Russia, economically, strategically, and politically,” Baerbock told reporters.
“Diplomacy is the only way,” she added, speaking next to her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.
Asked about Germany’s refusal to send defensive weapons to Ukraine, as requested by the government in Kyiv, Baerbock said the government’s new restrictive arms export policy is “rooted in our history”.
Since taking over in December and as part of a larger approach, the German government has taken a more restrictive stance on the export of arms to foreign countries.
Baerbock emphasised that “different historical responsibilities” are the reason for this and that Germany will support Ukraine by other means.
“The most effective lever that we have to back Ukraine is the unequivocal and, above all, the unanimous commitment of the EU, the G7, and NATO,” Baerbock said.
Speaking alongside Baerbock, Kuleba said “each country will do what that country considers necessary and what corresponds to the national interests of that country when it comes to supporting Ukraine.”
While he tried to convince Baerbock of the necessity of defensive weapons to fend off a potential Russian aggression, he said Ukraine would be seeking to receive arms from other sources.
“We are working every day on this question,” Kuleba stated. “And our dialogue with Germany on this issue will continue,” he added.
Over the weekend, Kyiv’s ambassador to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, said the Ukrainian people were “extremely disappointed” of the German position.
The US, UK, Lithuania and France have meanwhile pledged additional support, saying they would export new defensive weapons to Ukraine, among them Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger missiles, small arms, and boats. London already started ferrying anti-armour weaponry to Ukraine on Monday evening.
Germany’s arms export control law
The question of exporting defensive weapons to Ukraine has been a subject of intense debate in Germany.
During the election campaign last May, current Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said that Germany could hardly deny Ukraine defensive weapons, a declaration which prompted widespread controversy.
However, the new government has taken a more restrictive approach towards the export of weapons to third countries.
Germany exported €9.35 billion worth of arms exports with explicit government approval in 2021, an an all-time record. Of those, €4.2 billion were weapons of war, something that the new government aims to change with new legislation that limits arms exports.
“Decisions on arms exports need a restrictive and clear legal basis,” Sven Giegold, state secretary of the economy ministry, told taz on Monday (17 January). The economy ministry is responsible for approving or vetoing weapons exports.
The draft legislation, that aims at introducing procedural bases and control options for the shipment of arms, is planned to be released this summer.
The “peace policy” approach of the new German government was also outlined by SPD foreign policy spokesperson Nils Schmid.
“The common ground of this governing coalition is the commitment to peace, are preservation, promotion and, when necessary, restoration of peace,” Schmid said in the German Bundestag last week.
The envisioned arms-export-control law would ensure that “we live up to this promise,” Schmid added.
Baerbock flew to Russia on Monday evening, where she will discuss potential pathways to ease tensions in and around Ukraine with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.
Topping the agenda is also the revival of the so-called Normandy format between Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine to ensure that Europe doesn’t lose its diplomatic grip over the negotiations on the conflict in its close neighbourhood.
[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski, Alice Taylor and Frédéric Simon]