Germany to Arm Ukraine in Major Policy Reversal

Berlin will send anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to help Kyiv fight off Russia.

By , a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
People protest in front of the Brandenburg gate against the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.
People protest in front of the Brandenburg gate against the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.
People protest in front of the Brandenburg Gate against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Berlin on Feb. 24. Hannibal Hanschke/Getty Images

Germany will provide anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Saturday, in a major policy reversal for Berlin.

“The Russian invasion marks a turning point,” Scholz said in a tweet announcing the decision. “It is our duty to support Ukraine to the best of our ability in defending against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s invading army.”

Scholz’s decision to supply 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to the Ukrainian military, which is facing three lines of Russian assault, comes as other NATO allies are also sending more military aid to Ukraine. 

Germany will provide anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Saturday, in a major policy reversal for Berlin.

“The Russian invasion marks a turning point,” Scholz said in a tweet announcing the decision. “It is our duty to support Ukraine to the best of our ability in defending against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s invading army.”

Scholz’s decision to supply 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to the Ukrainian military, which is facing three lines of Russian assault, comes as other NATO allies are also sending more military aid to Ukraine. 

Germany had already begun to loosen export controls to allow other allies such as the Netherlands to provide German-made military equipment to Ukraine. Germany is by some measures the world’s fourth-biggest arms exporter, but it had long refused to provide arms to Ukraine directly or even to allow other countries to send German-made weapons, citing a long-standing policy of refusing to send its arms into conflict zones.

“German pacifism is an ideology that pulses through the country,” said Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center. “This idea that now Germany will actively help Ukraine defend itself with German weapons is a huge shift.”

Germany had also courted Russia for years, including on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project, which aimed to deliver Russian energy to Berlin via the Baltic Sea, going around Ukraine. Berlin said the project was off after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Thursday.

In one respect, the move to provide arms to Ukraine puts Germany more on the front foot than the United States: The Pentagon has yet to supply Ukraine with any of its anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, which could help the country’s military fend off attacks from Russian attack helicopters massed in nearby Belarus. On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden authorized $350 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, including anti-armor weapons, small arms, various munitions, and body armor. A senior U.S. defense official said Saturday that Javelin anti-tank missiles would also be included in the package. 

Some former U.S. officials think Germany’s move is a sign that the United States and its European allies see the growing conflict as part of a larger struggle to protect the post-World War II U.S.-led world order. “The Ukrainians have proven their skill and tenacity in this fight,” Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and retired CIA officer, told Foreign Policy in a text message. “They are essentially fighting for all the free countries and people of the world.”

But with the Russian hold tightening and the possibility of Russian airstrikes endangering ground routes, some experts are wondering if Ukraine will actually be able to get the new aid. “I think the challenge would be getting them to Ukrainians at this stage,” said Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military at the think tank CNA. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers earlier this week that Russia’s full-scale invasion was making providing assistance over ground routes more complicated, one congressional aide briefed on the unclassified call told Foreign Policy

For years, the United States has pushed Germany and other European allies to spend more at home to build up their militaries, citing NATO’s defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP, but has faced reluctance from its North Atlantic partners. Some U.S. experts hope Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will finally get the message across. 

“This ongoing conflict has the potential to fundamentally change the European security order,” said Rizzo, the Atlantic Council expert. “What I hope for is that what’s going on now will finally convince the Europeans and the Germans in particular to step up to the plate: to do more, to spend more, to contribute more.”

Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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