Germany has abandoned a taboo. On Thursday evening, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) announced that Germany would expand its weapons assistance to Ukraine and would now supply Marder infantry fighting vehicles after all.
The chancellor announced his change of course in a joint press release with United States President Joe Biden. Ukraine will receive support "for as long as needed," the Chancellery stated. "To this end, the United States intends to supply Ukraine with Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and Germany intends to provide Ukraine with Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles.”
Equipment for a Ukrainian Battalion
The Chancellery and the White House did not provide details on the size of the delivery. According to reporting from DER SPIEGEL, Germany intends to supply up to 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles to equip a Ukrainian battalion. A Patriot air defense system is also to be delivered.
The chancellor is thus moving away from his previous course of restraint on the tank issue. Previously, Scholz had rejected Kyiv's requests for battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, arguing that no other Western country was supplying them. "Germany will not go it alone" had been Scholz’s mantra. The chancellor was driven by concerns about an escalation of the war, and about the possibility of a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia. In an interview with DER SPIEGEL last April, Scholz suggested that tank deliveries from Germany could result in a broadening of the war. "There cannot be a nuclear war," Scholz said at the time.
In the end, though, the chancellor’s argument that Germany couldn’t go it alone unraveled. On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron announced the delivery of older French AMX-10 RC "light" battle tanks. Soon afterwards, U.S. President Joe Biden said he was considering supplying American Bradley infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine. Scholz, it seemed at first, was under pressure to act.
However, confidential talks between Berlin, Washington and Paris on tank deliveries to Kyiv appear to have been underway for several weeks. Sources say a decision was made after New Year’s to send the 40 Marders. A similar number of Bradley tanks are said to be coming from the U.S. The identical quantity is intended to underscore the West’s unity – and to bolster the idea that neither Germany nor the U.S. is in any way acting on their own. Which means that Scholz can stay true to his message.
Marders from German Military Stocks Had Been a Taboo
The decision to supply infantry fighting vehicles in the eleventh month of the war is based on the analysis, shared by the three allies, that the Ukrainian army needs more heavy equipment to break Russian positions in the south and east of the country. Officials in Berlin claim there was no pressure whatsoever.
The plan is to train Ukrainian soldiers on the Marder and Patriot air defense systems as quickly as possible, with instruction to take place in Germany. It is still unclear, however, when the tanks will be delivered or where they will come from. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht of the SPD had recently ruled out giving away Marders from the inventory of Germany’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr. "We need them," Lambrecht had said in an interview with a German public radio station. According to reporting by DER SPIEGEL, the defense company Rheinmetall, the manufacturer of the Marder, could have 40 decommissioned models ready for deployment by summer.
Ukraine has been demanding Marders, but also the more modern Leopard 2 combat tanks, for the past several months. But the German government remains opposed to supplying Leopard 2 tanks.
However, Berlin has said it does plan to support Ukraine with additional Gepard anti-aircraft tanks. To that end, discussions are underway with two countries that still have Gepard tanks and the ammunition they require. Germany has already delivered 30 of the anti-aircraft systems. The Gepards have proven particularly effective at shooting down Russian drones, most of which are of Iranian design.
Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP)
The junior coalition partners in Scholz's coalition government, the Greens and the business-friendly FDP, had repeatedly urged the chancellor in interviews and newspaper editorials to assist Ukraine with more heavy weapons. Following the decision, both junior coalition partners have expressed their relief.
"The chancellor is finally taking action," said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the FDP. "This decision by the U.S., France and Germany is absolutely right and was long awaited," said Green Party parliamentary group vice chair Agnieszka Brugger. But both Strack-Zimmermann and Brugger are calling for even more far-reaching support. "We need to train Ukrainian soldiers on the Marders and Leopards right away. Because after the Marder comes the Leopard," said Strack-Zimmermann. Brugger refers to the "idea of supplying the Leopard as part of an alliance with other European partners" – an idea that she says must be pursued further.
Pressure on the chancellor to do more for Ukraine remains high.