Germany makes historic shift on defense after Russia invasion

Russian President Vladimir Putin has managed to do in five days what US presidents of both parties have failed to do for a decade: Get NATO laggard Germany to spend more on defense.

Responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz Sunday told a special session of the German parliament he had authorized a sharp increase in the 2022 defense budget. He portrayed the $112.7 billion short-term spending package as part of a drive to increase Germany’s overall defense spending to the NATO target of 2% of GDP.

“We need to support Ukraine in its hour of desperate need,” an uncharacteristically animated Mr. Scholz said, according to the Deutsche Welle news website. “In attacking Ukraine, Mr. Putin does not just want to eradicate a country from the world map, he is destroying the European security system.”

It’s a remarkable turnaround for Berlin, which under former Chancellor Angela Merkel perennially failed to meet the NATO targets, to the frustration of Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Biden.

Prior to last week, many in NATO and the Kremlin saw Germany as a potential weak link in the Western united front in the Ukraine crisis, given the longstanding policy of Mr. Scholz and his Social Democratic party of reaching out to Moscow and Germany’s heavy reliance on Russian oil and natural gas.

But the Scholz government has already put the completed Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline on deep regulatory freeze, and broke Saturday with the country’s once-sacrosanct postwar policy by approving the shipment of 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to Ukraine .

Previously Germany had supplied only defensive, nonlethal military supplies to Ukraine and had blocked other NATO countries from sending German-made offensive weaponry to Kyiv.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, whose Green Party had until recently favored a most accommodating foreign policy line with Moscow, said Berlin was adjusting to shifting circumstances brought on by Russia’s actions.

“We cannot leave Ukraine defenseless against the aggressor who is bringing death and devastation to this country,” Ms. Baerbock said Sunday. “If our world is different, then our politics must be different as well.”

mr. Scholz said Germany also would be deploying more troops to Eastern Europe to bolster NATO countries closer to Russia.

The one-year, $112 billion defense package would nearly double current defense spending levels and could prove controversial in Germany’s Bundestag, where some lawmakers were heard angrily opposing Mr. Scholz’s announcement.

Popular opinion against Russia’s invasion has been particularly pronounced in Germany, with an estimated 100,000 people attending a protest in Berlin even as lawmakers were meeting.

Demonstrators were carrying signs with slogans such as “Hands off Ukraine,” “Tanks to Windmills” and “Putin, go to therapy and leave Ukraine and the world in peace,” according to the Associated Press.

Berlin’s abrupt shift drew praise from someone who had been sharply critical just recently of the German government’s reluctance to back Kyiv with stronger military assistance — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Keep it up, Chancellor [Scholz],” mr. Zelenskyy tweeted Saturday night when the weapons shipments were announced. “Anti-war coalition in action!”

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