October 4, 2022

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As Ukraine rushes over 100,000, Germany announces massive defense spending increase that could upend European security policy

As Ukraine rushes over 100,000, Germany announces massive defense spending increase that could upend European security policy

In Germany, where 100,000 people turned out on Sunday in Berlin to protest the invasion, the moves marked a seismic turn for a country that has been sensitive to involvement in international conflict since the end of World War II.

“What happened in the last few days has been a serious wake-up call for Europe, a serious wake-up call for the NATO alliance and, very unfortunately for Ukraine, a wake-up call so late in the day,” said Richard Dannatt, a retired general and former commander of the British Army. [Russian President] Vladimir Putin was ready for this.”

Germany’s shift appears to enable a new approach from the European Union, which said on Sunday it plans to ban all Russian-owned, registered or controlled aircraft – including oligarchic private ones – from its airspace and will ban some Russian state media. The union also announced that it would spend more than $500 million on lethal weapons and non-lethal supplies such as fuel and protective equipment for Ukraine.

Protesters around the world took to the streets on February 25 and 27, the first weekend since Russia invaded Ukraine. (Reuters)

“For the first time ever, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of arms and other equipment to a country under attack,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday. “This is a watershed moment.”

Marcel Dersus, a German political science professor and fellow at Kiel University’s Institute for Security Policy, said Sunday’s EU announcement was indicative of the kinds of ripple effects that the former German axis could have. “I think it is very unlikely that something like this would happen against Germany’s opposition,” he said.

What remains unclear is whether and how these changes will affect Ukraine. Germany would not send troops to Ukraine, nor would Germany send any other NATO members, who were worried about being drawn into a direct confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia.

NATO’s position on Ukraine has always been, in essence, that membership has its perks: while the alliance may be willing to provide support – both lethal and non-lethal – it will not be directly involved in sending troops to defend Ukraine from any external attack, as with any member in NATO.

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The Russian invasion didn’t change those calculus — frustrating Ukrainians who had been seeking NATO membership for years, including President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We are left to ourselves. Who is ready to go to war for us? Frankly, I see no one. Who is ready to give Ukraine guarantees of NATO membership?” asked Zelensky in a speech after the invasion of Russia.

Not all EU countries are part of NATO. For example, Finland and Sweden stayed out of the alliance, although the current crisis seemed to bind the two countries more closely to NATO than they had previously, despite Russian warnings that it might take military action if the two countries joined NATO. alliance.

Ian Kearns, co-founder and former CEO of the European Leadership Network, said Putin “has achieved something that a lot of people have been trying to achieve for a long time – European unity, Western unity, a growing willingness to take action.” who has long been active in efforts to establish diplomatic channels between the West and Russia.

For countries already in NATO, the German pivot to defense could have profound long-term implications. Speaking in the German parliament on Sunday, Schulz called Russia’s attack on Ukraine a “turning point in the history of our continent” and said the Bundeswehr would receive an additional one-time payment of more than $110 billion – twice Germany. defense budget last year.

“Better, more modern equipment, more staff, and that costs a lot of money,” Schultz told lawmakers in a private session.

Schulz pledged to exceed the NATO defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP “from now on, every year”. Last year, Germany spent an estimated 1.53 percent of its annual economic output on defense, well short of NATO’s 2 percent target.

“Not only are we pursuing this goal because we promised our friends and allies that we will increase our defense spending to 2 percent of our economic output by 2024, but we are also doing it for ourselves for our own safety,” Schulz said.

The plans will still need to be approved by lawmakers, but there appeared to be widespread support for them on Sunday.

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“There has been an awakening, not only by the political class, but also by ordinary voters,” said Dersus, a German political science professor.

A few hours after Schulz’s speech to the Bundestag, at least 100,000 people turned out in Berlin to protest the invasion. It stretched from the Victory Column to the Brandenburg Gate – where the Berlin Wall divided east and west.

Ukrainian flags and colors were dominant, while others carried banners denouncing Putin and calling for NATO to impose a no-fly zone. Many Germans welcomed the change in the tone of their government, but were disappointed that it took so long.

“Olaf Schultz is two weeks late for all this stuff,” said Henning Ramke, 31, from Berlin. “The government has always been the last country in Europe to stand behind Ukraine.”

During past crises, including after the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, Germany has hesitated to swing more squarely into confrontation with a country that helped defeat the Nazis. The deep economic relationship between Germany and Russia goes back decades, and many critics say it has led to an orthodox foreign policy that has long prevented Europe from sharply criticizing the Kremlin.

In a sign of the deep historical ties between Germany and the former Soviet Union, anti-Russian demonstrators who thronged Berlin on Sunday passed Soviet tanks lining the Soviet War Memorial in central Berlin.

One reason for Germany’s disappointing response, in the eyes of the Allies, was the lack of popular support thus far. Opinion polls show opposition to arms deliveries or a tougher stance with Russia. Thorsten Weiss shared this view. Then Russia invaded, which he described as “unthinkable”.

“It’s a difficult situation for Germany. I opposed it at first, but I’ve found it good since then and the only way to do something against what’s going on,” said the 60-year-old Berliner.

Germany’s sluggish defense spending has long been defended across the German political spectrum, even as its international allies have expressed their displeasure. Schulz’s Social Democratic Party has been among the main opponents of a significant increase in spending.

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The German army’s chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Alphonse Meese, said last week that “the army that I am allowed to command is somewhat incompetent” against Russia amid the current crisis. Defense associations warned that the German army was underfunded and lacking basic equipment.

The first signs of a major breach of tradition came on Saturday, when Germany announced it would transfer 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to Ukraine, and adopted wide-ranging restrictions on Russian banks that it had previously rejected.

The move also opened up European armories full of weapons to Ukraine, because Berlin retained its veto over how weapons manufactured in Germany were used even after they were sold elsewhere.

“This is the last door that closes on the Kremlin,” said retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who served as the US military’s commander in Europe during the Obama and Trump administrations.

“It would be a drastic change because all of Europe looks at this in a different way,” he said. “The European Union has discovered its heart and backbone.”

Hodges suggested that the European position changed because of Putin’s “categorical” lie about the invasion. He said that senior officials who “really wanted to believe you could negotiate with them” were “humiliated”, “and they are very angry about it.”

Kearns said he believed the Russian attack on Ukraine would eventually lead to Putin’s elimination as the Russian president grew increasingly isolated at home and abroad. But he warned that Europe could not be satisfied with Putin’s position.

With NATO now engaged in a de facto proxy war with Russia, Kearns said, the risks of unintended escalation increase, making communication between the Russian and Western militaries essential. And he said that even as the West continues to ramp up pressure on Russia, it will also need to help Putin “navigate the cliff” of an invasion that appears to be collapsing.

Michael Birnbaum in Washington and William Glucroft in Berlin contributed to this report.