Germany under pressure – many expect Ramstein to make a concrete announcement from the federal government about the “Leopard”, but the new defense minister is pulling Scholz out of the affair for the time being. It’s still embarrassing for the chancellor.
“Taking the pressure off” is clearly Boris Pistorius’ goal when he appeared in front of the press in Ramstein in the afternoon. There is “no unified opinion” in Ramstein, the German defense minister explains on the debate about the Leopard battle tank. The impression that Germany is blocking such a decision is wrong. What Pistorius fails to mention: more than 50 countries belong to the Ukraine contact group. Even a question about the weather would not result in a “uniform opinion”.
Contrary to what the minister suggested in his statement, important partners of Ukraine – and also of Germany – have positioned themselves very clearly and unanimously in advance: Great Britain, Poland and Finland are ready to give battle tanks from their stocks to Kyiv. France is examining specifically, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia and Lithuania have jointly spoken out in favor of supplying battle tanks. Spain had already suggested this in the spring. From the USA there is praise for the British “Challenger”.
So when Pistorius tries to sound as if they sat down in Ramstein for an open-ended brainstorming session on “Leopard”, he hardly manages to downplay the pressure that Germany is under in relation to this illustrious squad. (Not to mention Ukraine, which cannot repel a foreseeable spring offensive by the Russians without a three-digit number of Western main battle tanks.)
For the federal government, this squad of allies willing to deliver means one thing above all: the chancellor’s dictum that going it alone should be avoided – a position that can be defended with good reason – is turning against him. When so many partners are willing to act, doing nothing becomes going it alone.
The dictum “Don’t go it alone” no longer appears
Berlin had to give up this dictum, the term “going it alone” does not appear anywhere in the minister’s statement. His problem: It was the last justification that remained after all the others had already been cleared. Availability, logistics, repair and training – everything is possible. Experts have been saying almost in unison for weeks that Germany can deliver the “Leopard” if Scholz just wants to.
So what’s left for his new defense minister if he can’t maintain a blocking attitude in front of the cameras in Ramstein that can no longer be justified in terms of content? He announces a step. Berlin is moving – but not as far as the partner countries expect. He, Pistorius, gave his ministry the order that morning to examine the “Leopard” stocks in the Bundeswehr and also in industry. Result? Open minded.
So Berlin is moving, and since – see above – there are no more reasons left for not giving the “Leopard” to the attacked Ukraine in association with many states, one can hope that the “Leopard” will soon be released. Was Germany able to save face with this?
Unfortunately not. Because if it should actually be the case that Minister Pistorius has to order an inspection of the “Leopard” stocks on the second working day, because before him and parallel to the debate that has been going on internationally, in the Bundestag and at German kitchen tables for months, no one has yet, not even the chancellor, came up with this idea… So if that’s really true, then you should really start to get scared. Fear as to whether Germany, whether the Chancellery and the Ministry of Defense can still cope with the fragile international situation.
The “Marder” promise created a commotion
The good news: It is totally unlikely that Pistorius actually needs this report and is as uninformed as he is suggesting today. First, for common sense reasons. After the commotion following the infantry fighting vehicle commitment at the beginning of January, one thing became clear from many factors: Scholz had overrun the entire ministry, including the boss, with his ad hoc commitment. That didn’t look good and contradicted the Chancellor’s statement that everything had been coordinated for weeks. Hopefully Scholz would not take such a risk again.
Second, for diplomatic reasons. Boris Pistorius today saved his boss from appearing as a narrow-minded blocker. And that was important. To do this, he had to take it upon himself to portray himself and his department as ill-prepared, and when asked about exactly this point, he skilfully pointed out that he had only been in office for 24 hours. The cold start in the Bendler Block enabled Pistorius to absorb the embarrassment of poor preparation. However, he will never be able to bring up this reasoning again.
So if Berlin has now actually understood that it has to deliver and now wants to make it look like its own decision as best it can, forget about it. The manufacturers have made several public statements about the industrial stocks. Two calls should be enough – in the executive suite of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and then you would have to get Armin Pappberger from Rheinmetall on the line. This part of the research would be completed in 20 minutes.
According to RTL information, a list of the “Leopard” tanks available in the Bundeswehr has long been available from Inspector General Eberhard Zorn. So if Pistorius doesn’t want to wait for his own test report, he simply takes it. In other words: all the data is available. Now comes the most difficult task for Pistorius: to make it clear to Scholz that something has to be announced next week. Alone the previous performance of the new in an enormously muddled mixture gives reason for confidence.