By Maria Sheahan and Sabine Siebold
BERLIN -Germany announced on Tuesday its first delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine to help it fend off Russian attacks following weeks of pressure at home and abroad to do so amid confusion over its stance.
German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said the government had approved the delivery of “Gepard” anti-aircraft tanks from the stocks of company KMW on Monday.
“The real significance of this decision lies not in the difference Gepards may make on the battlefield, but in the signal it sends,” said Marcel Dirsus, non-resident fellow at Kiel University’s Institute for Security Policy.
“Europe’s largest economy is getting serious about supporting Ukraine and more help is coming.”
Critics, including Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, have accused Berlin of dragging its heels on the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine and on other measures that could help Kyiv repel Russian forces such as an embargo on Russian energy imports.
They say it is not showing the leadership expected of a major power and that its hesitations are costing Ukrainian lives.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has countered that the armed forces, the Bundeswehr, are already at the limit of what they can spare, while the weaponry that industry could provide lacks ammunition and needs upgrading.
Scholz, a Social Democrat whose party long championed close ties with Russia, also warned of the risk of Moscow perceiving Germany as a party to the conflict, which could lead to a “third world war”.
However, even members of the two junior partners in his three-way governing coalition, the Greens and Free Democrats, have questioned this reasoning, saying Germany needs to do more.
Ukrainian pleas for heavy weapons have intensified since Moscow shifted its offensive to the eastern region of Donbas, a territory seen as better suited for tank battles than the areas around Kyiv, where much of the earlier fighting took place.
The announcement of Gepard deliveries came after reports on Monday that defence company Rheinmetall had requested government approval for the delivery of 100 old Marder infantry fighting vehicles and 88 old Leopard 1A5 tanks to Ukraine.
Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine, now entering a third month, as a “special military operation” that aims to degrade the military capabilities of its southern neighbour and root out what it calls dangerous nationalists.
Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.