The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has defended himself against accusations that his approach to Russian aggression has been hesitant and timid, insisting his decisions followed close consultation with Germany’s allies and sought to avoid any suspicion that the country was “going it alone”.
Scholz has faced fierce criticism even from within his own government and last week came under particular fire from the opposition leader, Friedrich Merz, who accused him of weak leadership and of “procrastination, dithering and timidity”. On Sunday it was reported that Merz was planning to travel to Kyiv on Monday.
Scholz appeared to bow to immense domestic and international pressure last week by announcing that Germany would deliver heavy weaponry to Ukraine, in the form of self-propelled anti-aircraft systems, in what was seen as a sharp policy U-turn.
But while the outspoken Ukrainian ambassador to Berlin, Andriy Melnyk, said he welcomed the move, he piled further pressure on Scholz on Sunday by insisting it did not go nearly far enough, and demanding more “fantasy and courage” from Germany.
Responding to the criticism in an interview with the tabloid Bild am Sonntag, Scholz said: “I am making my decisions quickly and in conjunction with our allies.” He said that “overhasty actions and Germany going it alone” would be viewed with suspicion.
Scholz said: “I am not fearful enough to allow myself to be affected by such accusations.” He insisted he would not be cowed into changing his strategy by his record-low popularity rating.
“You should notice opinion polls but you should not make your actions dependent on them. Especially regarding questions of war and peace, this would be immensely dangerous,” he said.
According to the polling institute Insa, 54% of Germans are unhappy with Scholz’s record.
Scholz, who has been in office for just under five months, found himself plunged early on into dealing with the dilemma faced by almost every government leader since the second world war – having to tread a thin line between Germany assuming international responsibilities and avoiding accusations both at home and abroad that its actions might drag Europe into another war.
Melnyk, who has himself drawn criticism within Germany for his persistent complaints about what he has repeatedly described as the country’s lack of decisive action, said that the Gepard anti-aircraft guns promised last week were insufficient and too old.
“The direction is the right one, but of course they are not enough. In particular we’re lacking ammunition for the Gepards … and in addition they are 40 years old. In order to defeat Russia we need the most modern Germany weaponry,” he said, also speaking to Bild.
He said his criticism was directed at “the entire German political class”, accusing Germany of being “very wrapped up in itself” and urging it to “at last become aware of its enormous historical responsibility”.
Melnyk listed the specific arms he said Ukraine needed Germany to deliver. “We want the speedy export of 88 Leopard tanks, 100 Marder armoured personnel carriers, self-propelled howitzers and much more. We are experiencing the biggest war in Europe for 80 years. It cannot be won with 30 or 100 more anti-aircraft systems.”
Melnyk acknowledged that Germany had taken in a large number of refugees from Ukraine, including his own mother-in-law. Officially the figure is just under 400,000, according to German border police, although the real number is believed to be much higher as they are not required to register and can be in Germany without a visa for 90 days.
“I am grateful to Germany for every help it gives. But we’re talking about life and death in Ukraine, and the survival of my nation,” he said.
As debate raged among policymakers in Germany as to when and whether Germany can become independent from Russian gas supplies, the news agency DPA reported that the government was planning to support EU plans for a Russian oil embargo, as part of a sixth round of sanctions about to be announced by the bloc, despite opposition from Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Spain, Italy and Greece.
Germany has already reduced its dependence on Russian gas from 55% to 35% since the start of the war, but full independence is not expected to be reached until 2024, Robert Habeck, the economics minister, has said.