Olaf Scholz, German chancellor, has warned against a bidding war among western allies over military aid to Ukraine, as he firmly ruled out sending fighter jets and ground troops to Kyiv.
In an interview with the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, Scholz said that “no one is even asking” about sending combat aircraft.
“The fact we’ve only just made a decision [on sending tanks] and already the next debate is firing up in Germany, that just seems frivolous, and undermines people’s trust in government decisions,” he said. “I can only advise against entering a bidding war over weapons systems.”
Scholz was speaking just days after announcing that Germany would be supplying Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, and allowing other European states to send their stocks of the German-made weapons system too, in a major ramping-up of western military support for Kyiv.
Shortly afterwards, the US pledged to give a number of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, in a move that was condemned by the Kremlin.
But Scholz is already facing calls to do more. Andrii Melnyk, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister and former ambassador to Berlin, called for the creation of a “fighter jet coalition” that could provide Ukraine with US F-16s and F-35s, Eurofighters, Tornados, French Rafales and Swedish Gripen jets.
On Saturday he went even further, urging the Bundeswehr to give Ukraine one of its HDW Class 212A submarines, manufactured by German firm ThyssenKrupp. “Then we’ll kick [the Russian] fleet out of the Black Sea,” he tweeted. He acknowledged that this latest “creative idea” might cause a “new shit storm”.
But Melnyk is not alone, with some more hawkish EU states discussing sending fighter aircraft to Ukraine. However, other capitals are cautioning against such a move in the short-to medium term, given the need to focus on ensuring the smooth delivery of tanks.
“I understand that Ukrainians always want the next step . . . but at this moment it is going to be very difficult,” said a person involved in the discussions “Now we are agreed on [Leopards]. Let’s do it. And as quick as possible.”
“It’s not so easy to bring Leopards to the battlefield . . . to train the crews, to equip the tanks, and to provide the logistics and the maintenance,” the person added. “It is a very complex logistical operation.”
That point was echoed by Scholz in his Tagesspiegel interview. “It’s important to me now that all those who have announced they want to send tanks to Ukraine actually do so,” he said.
In his Sunday interview, Scholz defended his decision to maintain phone contact with Russian president Vladimir Putin, with the last phone conversation taking place at the start of December.
“And I will continue to phone Putin — because we have to keep talking to each other,” he said.
He said the tone of the conversations was “not impolite, but our perspectives are of course completely different”.
He said often the phone calls were about “concrete issues” such as prisoner exchanges, Ukrainian grain exports and the fate of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
“For me it’s important that the conversations keep coming back to the main point: how does the world get out of this terrible situation?” he said. “The condition for that is clear: the withdrawal of Russian troops.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán chimed in to criticise the stepped-up arms deliveries and other forms of assistance to Ukraine.
“If you send weapons, if you finance the entire annual budget of one fighting side, if you promise new arms deliveries, increasingly modern ones, then whatever you say you are at war,” Orbán told public radio on Friday.
“The Germans started by saying they would send helmets, because [sending] lethal instruments would mean participation in the war,” he said. “We started from there. Now we’re at the tanks, and they’re already talking about fighter jets.”
Additional reporting by Marton Dunai in Budapest