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Germany’s New Defense Minister

Boris Pistorius, a longtime politician with little foreign-policy experience, will host his counterparts later this week to discuss Ukraine.

By , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.
Then-Lower Saxony’s interior minister, Boris Pistorius, addresses the press.
Then-Lower Saxony’s interior minister, Boris Pistorius, addresses the press.
Then-Lower Saxony’s interior minister, Boris Pistorius, addresses a press conference in Berlin on Dec. 11, 2020. BRITTA PEDERSEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Germany’s new defense minister, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meeting with his Turkish counterpart, and a deadly helicopter crash in Ukraine.

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Scholz Appoints New Defense Minister

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Germany’s new defense minister, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meeting with his Turkish counterpart, and a deadly helicopter crash in Ukraine.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Scholz Appoints New Defense Minister

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has appointed a new defense minister: Boris Pistorius. This comes after the last defense minister, Christine Lambrecht, resigned after a series of gaffes, the latest of which was talking about the war in Ukraine while New Years Eve fireworks went off around her in Berlin—a move criticized as “tone deaf” by the opposition.

Pistorius has long been a politician, serving as the interior minister of Lower Saxony. But he has no defense experience, has never held senior federal office, and is not well known outside Germany (or even, as the Wall Street Journal put it, outside his own state). He is a member of Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD). One main item on his long-term agenda will be renewing and reinvigorating Germany’s armed forces, making good on the Zeitenwende, or “epochal shift,” that Scholz announced after Russia invaded Ukraine.

In the short term, Pistorius, 62, will have to get to work on his new beat immediately. On Friday, he is hosting many of his counterparts, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, at a meeting to discuss military support for Ukraine moving forward. Germany remains reluctant to support Ukraine by sending modern Leopard 2 battle tanks. Pressure is growing from German allies—and from some politicians in Germany, notably in the Greens party, a SPD coalition partner—for Scholz and his new defense minister to act more decisively.


What We’re Following Today 

Blinken meeting Turkish counterpart in Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting his Turkish counterpart, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, on Wednesday. Although Turkey and the United States are NATO allies, the two countries are at odds on a variety of issues. Turkey wants to buy F-16s from the United States, a deal that faces congressional pushback; the United States, meanwhile, also wants to sell F-35s to Greece, which is increasingly at odds with its Turkish neighbor.

Further friction has come from Turkey’s reluctance to ratify Swedish and Finnish bids to join NATO. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s latest demand, issued at a youth rally this week, was that Sweden and Finland send “nearly 130 terrorists” (Erdogan’s description of political opponents) back to Turkey if they want their bids approved by Ankara. Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO countries that have yet to ratify Sweden and Finland’s applications to join NATO.

Helicopter crash in Ukraine. A helicopter crash near a kindergarten in a Kyiv suburb killed at least 14 people, including Ukraines interior minister, Denys Monastyrsky, and three children on the ground. Monastyrsky is the highest-ranking Ukrainian official to die since Russias invasion began. According to the New York Times, there is no sign that the helicopter was shot down, and authorities have launched an investigation.

Zelensky’s advisor resigns. An advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Oleksiy Arestovych, offered his resignation. Arestovych had suggested that the Russian missile that hit an apartment building in Dnipro, Ukraine, on Jan. 14 had been shot down by Ukraine. The missile strike killed at least 40 people, including several children. More than two dozen people remain missing after the attack. Arestovych said his remark was a “fundamental error.” Before his resignation, his comments were seized on by Russians, with Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov blaming the attack on Ukraine and saying Russians “do not strike residential buildings.” Some Ukrainians blamed Arestovych for helping Russian propagandists.


Keep an Eye On

India’s increased Russian oil consumption. India is now reportedly buying 33 times more Russian oil than it was a year ago. In December 2022, India is said to have purchased, on average, 1.2 million barrels from Russia per day, a 29 percent increase from the previous month. Russia invaded Ukraine last February and has been waging war against it ever since, leading many countries to sanction Russia and wean themselves off Russian oil and gas. India, on the other hand, now imports more oil from Russia than from any other country.

U.S. arms to Ukraine by way of Israel. The New York Times reported Tuesday that the United States will be sending weapons to Ukraine from a stockpile of U.S. arms stored in Israel to help Ukraine meet its need for artillery shells. The United States stores the stockpile and has, in the past, allowed Israel to access it in case of emergency. Israel, which has been careful not to upset Russia, frustrating Ukrainians and their allies, initially reportedly expressed concern that the move would damage its relations with Moscow.

China’s population falls. For the first time since 1961, China’s population has fallen. The national birth rate last year was just 6.77 births per 1,000 people, and the population fell by 850,000 people from 2021. China did away with its one-child policy several years ago and has put in place state-sponsored inducements to have children, but it is nevertheless facing what some are describing as a demographic crisis.

This is the first time that deaths have outstripped births in China since the famine and death that ensued as a result of then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward between 1958 and 1962. The shift could have a dramatic result on China and its economy as well as on the wider world. Data released Tuesday showed that Chinas economy in 2022 had one of the worst years since Maos death in 1976.


Tuesday’s Most Read

Russia’s Fifth Column in Ukraine Is Alive and Well by Stefanie Glinski

Iran’s Protests Are Nowhere Near Revolution by Sajjad Safaei

The Hidden History of the World’s Top Offshore Cryptocurrency Tax Haven by Adam Tooze


Odds and Ends 

Protesting with shampoo. In a kind of demonstration within a demonstration, Tamil protesters in Sri Lanka, facing police with water cannons, reportedly took out shampoo and used the water cannons to wash their hair. The demonstrators were gathered to protest Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit near the University of Jaffna. Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt and is in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund after last years economic crisis. Sri Lanka recently announced government spending cuts, warning it hardly had enough to pay public pensions.

Update, Jan. 18, 2023: The number of people killed in today’s helicopter crash in Kyiv, Ukraine, has been updated to reflect official numbers.

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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