| 29 May 2024, Wednesday |

Germany names new defense minister, will face pressure to send tanks to Ukraine

On Tuesday, the German government appointed Boris Pistorius to the position of defense minister amid growing pressure on Berlin from Western allies to permit Ukraine to utilize tanks produced in Germany in its conflict with Russia.

Prior to a symposium on Western plans to supply Kyiv with more weapons on Friday at the U.S. military facility in Ramstein, Christine Lambrecht resigned as defense minister on Monday after making a number of mistakes.

Until now, Germany has been cautious about approving the dispatch of heavy Leopard tanks due to worries that such a move could be seen as an escalation of the war. Other countries with such tanks also need Berlin’s approval before they can be passed on to another country.

“There are important decisions to be made in the short term, in particular the urgent question of how we continue to support Ukraine in its right to self-defense,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck, said in a statement.

“Germany bears a responsibility here and has major tasks to accomplish,” he said.

The new defense minister is expected to host his U.S. counterpart, Lloyd Austin, in Berlin on Thursday.

Pistorius, 62, who completed his military service in the early 1980s, has been interior minister in Lower Saxony since 2013 and in this role has worked with the armed forces.

Like Chancellor Olaf Scholz, he ran for the leadership of the Social Democrat (SPD) party in 2019 – they both lost – and he is known for taking a hard line on security issues.

In a statement before he is formally appointed on Thursday, Pistorius said the armed forces could rely on him.

“I know the importance of the task,” he said. “It is important to me to involve the soldiers closely and to take them with me.”

Scholz described him as a friend and good politician.

“He is someone with an awful lot of experience in security policy, who has cooperated openly and closely in his previous role with the Bundeswehr and who possesses the strength and calm that one needs for such a great task,” he said.

Pistorius has been in a relationship with Doris Schroeder-Kopf, the ex-wife of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Schroeder has drawn sharp criticism from inside Germany and abroad for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Pistorius was also a member of the Bundesrat upper house of parliament German-Russian friendship group before it was dissolved in April.

The incoming minister takes over at a crucial time. He will oversee an overhaul of Germany’s armed forces, with a 100-billion-euro ($108 billion) special fund at his disposal which was hurriedly agreed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

After decades of under-investment, German equipment, such as Puma infantry tanks which were found to have problems in a military drill and rendered out of action, is in the spotlight. Scholz has signaled a policy shift by promising to boost defense spending to more than 2% of its economic output.

  • Reuters