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German defence minister quits as pressure grows for Ukraine aid

By AFP
16 January 2023   |   12:25 pm
German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht resigned on Monday after coming in for months of heavy criticism over Berlin's stuttering response to the war in Ukraine.

(FILES) This file photo taken on April 6, 2022 shows German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht addressing members of the parliament during a session of the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) in Berlin. – Germany’s Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht has decided to step down from her post, it was announced on January 16, 2023. (Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht resigned on Monday after coming in for months of heavy criticism over Berlin’s stuttering response to the war in Ukraine.

Her decision came just days ahead of a crucial meeting of defence ministers from Ukraine’s allies, and as Berlin was under intense pressure to provide battle tanks to Kyiv.

A spokeswoman for Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Monday he would announce a replacement for Lambrecht “in the near future” but government sources told AFP that no decision was expected on Monday on her successor.

Lambrecht, 57, said in a statement she had asked Scholz to relieve her of her duties.

“The months-long media focus on my person hardly allows for objective reporting and discussion about servicemen and women… and security policy decisions in the interest of the citizens of Germany,” she said.

The politician from Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) had faced criticism for months over what some see as Germany’s wavering response to the conflict in Ukraine.

Patience for Lambrecht ran out when she posted a New Year’s video on social media in which she lauded her “special experiences” as defence minister in 2022 against a backdrop of loud fireworks.

Leading German media blasted the tone-deaf message, with some commentators saying she was “no longer tenable as a minister”.

Rumours had been swirling ever since that she was planning to hand in her resignation.

Tanks for Ukraine
Lambrecht’s move comes days before the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, which coordinates arms supplies to Kyiv, is due to meet at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

The defence portfolio was always going to be daunting even before the war in Ukraine.

Lambrecht, who took office in December 2021, had been expected to address a series of military equipment failures that had made the armed forces a laughing stock in Germany.

But the war in the Ukraine added urgency to her task, leaving her in charge of Germany’s colossal plan to revive its ailing army with a special fund of 100 billion euros ($108 billion).

At the same time, the conflict also exposed a lack of understanding of the workings of modern warfare.

Even before Russia’s invasion, Lambrecht was mocked in January 2022 for her announcement that Germany would send 5,000 helmets to Kyiv, where the Ukrainian government was seeking weapons to ward off Moscow.

She then came under fire in May for allowing her son to accompany her on a government helicopter on their way to a family vacation.

In the fateful video posted earlier this month, Lambrecht reflected on a year ending with “war raging in the middle of Europe”.

To the backdrop of exploding fireworks during chaotic New Year’s celebrations in Berlin, the minister said the war in Ukraine had led to “a lot of special experiences” and the chance for “many encounters with great and interesting people”.

Cabinet reshuffle?

Names of senior SPD politicians are already circulating for Lambrecht’s replacement, including Eva Hoegl, the parliamentary commissioner on armed forces.

Filling the post might also bring about a cabinet reshuffle that could shift Employment Minister Hubertus Heil to the defence portfolio.

Scholz’s junior coalition partner, the pro-business FDP, is also eyeing the opportunity to expand its list of ministerial jobs, even if it is highly unlikely that the SPD would cede the key portfolio.

FDP vice-chairman Wolfgang Kubicki told the Funke media group: “It would be good this time if this immensely important ministry could be led by someone with the necessary background knowledge.”

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of Kubicki’s FDP, who is the chairman of the parliamentary defence commission, has been touted as a potential contender.