Germany has appointed a new defence minister as pressure mounts on Berlin to allow European nations to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
The government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday named Boris Pistorius as the defence chief to replace scandal-hit Christine Lambrecht, who resigned a day earlier.
Pistorius, from Scholz’s governing Social Democrat Party (SPD), will leave his position as the interior minister of the state of Lower Saxony. He gained a national profile during the 2015 refugee crisis and is known for taking a hard line on security issues.
“Pistorius is an extremely experienced politician who is tried and tested in administration. [He] has dealt with security policy for years,” Scholz said.
“With his competence, assertiveness and big heart, he is exactly the right person to lead the Bundeswehr [armed forces] through this turning point,” he said in a statement.
Pistorius’s appointment comes before a meeting planned for Friday at the United States’s Rammstein airbase in southwestern Germany, where Ukraine’s allies are expected to discuss boosting military support for Kyiv.
His predecessor Lambrecht was criticised for months for her perceived failure to modernise the German army quickly enough, her stance on the Ukraine war and her public image.
Until now, Germany has been cautious about approving the dispatch of heavy Leopard tanks over fears that such a move could escalate the war.
In a statement seen by the Reuters news agency, German economy minister Robert Habeck said, “There are important decisions to be made in the short term, in particular, the urgent question of how we continue to support Ukraine in its right to self-defence.”
“Germany bears a responsibility here and has major tasks to accomplish.”
While other European countries have stocks of the sought-after German tanks, they can only be sent to Kyiv after first being approved by Berlin.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Al Jazeera, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, “I have said since the beginning of the war, we should give the Ukrainian armed forces the military equipment they need and that they can handle. If these are advanced technologies, I have the same position still, and I think there will be important discussions in Rammstein on January 20, and I hope good decisions will be taken.”
On Monday, the UK confirmed the first delivery of 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.
In his speech to Parliament, British defence secretary Ben Wallace said that Germany would not be alone if they sent tanks to Kyiv.
In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the British tanks would “burn just like the rest”.