German parliament approves heavy weapons for Ukraine

Germany would send Gepard anti-aircraft tanks, a clear switch in Berlin's cautious policy on military backing for Kyiv. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (AFP) - The German parliament on Thursday (April 28) voted in favour of providing Ukraine with heavy weapons, backing a shift in policy that came with the decision to send tanks to Kyiv earlier this week.

The Bundestag voted with a large majority for a motion put forward jointly by the three ruling coalition parties - the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and liberal FDP - and the opposition conservatives.

The document calls for the "acceleration of the delivery of effective, including heavy, weapons and complex systems by Germany".

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak welcomed the vote, praising the "impressive unity" of the German parliament.

"This vote will go down in history as one of the last nails in the coffin of Putin's lobbying in Europe and as the return of German leadership," he wrote on Twitter.

Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht had said on Tuesday that Germany would send Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine, in a clear switch in Berlin's cautious policy on military backing for Kyiv.

Germany had previously sent only defensive weapons, leaving Chancellor Olaf Scholz facing criticism that he was not doing enough to support Ukraine.

The motion approved on Thursday calls on the government to supply heavy weapons directly, as well as indirectly by replacing stocks sent to Ukraine from eastern European countries.

Speaking on a visit to Japan, Scholz welcomed the "clear support that the German Bundestag has given to the policies of the government".

Remarkable shift

In a debate before the vote, Britta Hasselmann, co-chair of the Green party's parliamentary group, said Russia's invasion of Ukraine was a "blatant" breach of international law and Ukraine had an "unrestricted right to self-defence".

FDP parliamentary group leader Christian Duerr also said it was "right" to approve both direct and indirect heavy arms deliveries.

For all three coalition parties, backing the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine represents a remarkable shift in policy.

The Greens have always had an anti-weapons export stance, while the SPD has been accused of an overly cosy attitude with Russia and the FDP is often criticised for privileging economic interests.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck from the Greens justified his backing for the motion in an emotional video posted on social media on Thursday.

German parliament's plenary hall before a debate on a comprehensive support plan for Ukraine, in Berlin on April 28, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Describing his last visit to Ukraine and the people he met there, Habeck said he was aware that Germany's decision would cause people to die and admitted the move came with a burden of guilt.

"But I believe that deciding against (delivering weapons) would incur even more guilt," he said.

Scholz had previously justified his reluctance to send heavy weapons to Ukraine by saying he wished to avoid a direct confrontation between Nato and Russia, a nuclear power.

But leader of the opposition CDU party, Friedrich Merz, on Thursday said it was not caution that was driving the chancellor. "It is hesitation, it is dithering, it is timidity," he said.

SPD co-leader Lars Klingbeil accused Merz of trying to use the conflict to boost his political standing. "There is no room for party-political posturing here," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.