Internal rifts loom as Germany ponders arms exports to Ukraine

“The supply of defensive weapons could be one way of supporting Ukraine,” Strack-Zimmermann said. “However, this [support] must then be defined precisely,” she added. [DBT/Maco Urban]

After the German government initially refused to supply Ukraine with defensive weaponry, German politicians are pushing to reconsider the position. The biggest EU country has also hinted it might now support exports of certain weaponry to Ukraine via NATO, which it has previously blocked.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chairwoman of the Bundestag’s defence committee and member of the governing liberal FDP, said on Wednesday (19 January) the option of arms exports to Kyiv would be on the table again.

“The supply of defensive weapons could be one way of supporting Ukraine,” Strack-Zimmermann said. “However, this [support] must then be defined precisely,” she added.

While other NATO members, such as the UK, US and most recently the Czech Republic, have in recent weeks pledged to assist Kyiv with arms, Germany has refused to follow suit.

According to the German coalition agreement, the government will not export weapons to conflict regions, which includes Ukraine.

Both Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, and the Green Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have been unequivocal on the matter.

Baerbock explained during her visit to Ukraine on Monday that the decision is “rooted in our history” and that Germany would prefer to take a diplomatic approach to defuse the crisis triggered by the amassing of Russian troops around Ukraine.

Germany continues blocking arms exports to Ukraine due to new foreign 'peace' policy

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.

Despite the latest political push, chances are slim that Germany will change its position.

“It’s only about reconsidering, it’s not about changing,” Andras Racz, a senior research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), told EURACTIV.

Stefan Meister, head of programme, international order and democracy, at DGAP, added that “there is a broad consensus in the German government that weapons deliveries tend to escalate and would deprive us of the possibility to be in a dialogue and mediation with Russia”.

Chancellor Scholz told the virtual World Economic Forum on Wednesday It is still too early to tell whether the intensive talks with Russia will help de-escalate the situation.

DGAP’s Meister warned, however, that the German approach is futile. “Russia must be shown red lines because it has no interest in compromise,” he said.

Germany's Baerbock speaks of 'fundamental disagreements' with Russia

During her official visit to Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke of “fundamental disagreements” with Russia, but spoke positively of Russia’s agreement to revive the Normandy format.

Arms deliveries via NATO?

Germany has also been blocking the export of certain weaponry to Ukraine via NATO, but in recent days has signalled that it would support such a move.

“The issue of arms deliveries is being decided within the framework of the NATO partnership, and that’s where it belongs,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters on Tuesday.

Whether this entails that Germany will lift its veto of certain arms deliveries to Ukraine remains to be seen. According to Meister, this approach will not lead to a fundamental change in Germany’s position, as Germany will probably continue to veto lethal weaponry.

“I don’t think the position will change. I think Baerbock also made that very clear again yesterday,” Meister said.

Germany signals it could halt gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine

Germany signalled on Tuesday (18 January) that it could halt the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine, and Western nations rallied behind Kyiv over a Russian troop buildup that has stoked fears of war.

German weapons delivery conundrum

While Germany has so far refused to support Ukraine with arms exports, it has seen the highest overall number of weapons exports in 2021.

According to the ministry of economics, the exports of armaments rose to €9.35 billion in 2021, the highest figure in German history and up from €5.82 billion in the previous year. Egypt alone has received armaments worth €4.34 billion.

The previous coalition government of the Social Democrats and the conservative CDU/CSU had green-lighted these deliveries. However, the new progressive governing coalition aims to reduce arms exports as part of a broader agenda towards international peace policy.

According to the economy ministry, Germany will put forward a new weapons-export control law by summer to further restrict weapons exports to third countries.

However, it remains to be seen whether the new government will make good on this promise, as its predecessor also pledged to reduce the export of armaments.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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