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German parliament backs heavy weapons supplies for Ukraine

German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz attends the weekly government cabinet meeting at the Chancellery on April 27, 2022, in Berlin, Germany. High on the morning's agenda was the supplementary federal budget resulting from Russia's war in Ukraine. (Jens Krick/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Germany’s parliament approved a cross-party motion urging the government to quickly supply Ukraine with heavy weapons and other equipment to bolster its defense against invading Russian forces.

The three parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition and the largest opposition group — which combined hold over 80% of the seats in the lower house of parliament — put aside their differences and teamed up to support the motion in a show of broad solidarity for the government in Kyiv.

In the rare collaboration, the measure was passed on Thursday with 586 out of 693 votes and only the far-right and far-left parties refused to back the plan. The motion also calls for an end to imports of Russian oil and gas and criticized China over its support for Moscow.

The move by lawmakers provides a legislative anchor for the government to expand support for Ukraine more rapidly. Scholz, who is in Japan on his first trip to Asia as chancellor, has faced intense criticism from international partners and domestic critics to do more to help, including supplying tanks and other advanced weapons systems.

Reacting to the vote, Scholz said that the “clear backing” from the Bundestag “shows that a strategy is possible in such challenging times that many are prepared to support.”

“We will continually assess the situation, which is necessary due to the constantly evolving threat that Ukraine faces,” he said at a news conference with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo. “But we will continue to follow this course and we got a very strong mandate today from the German Bundestag.”

Entitled “Defend peace and freedom in Europe — comprehensive support for Ukraine,” the parliamentary motion calls on the government to expand deliveries of “heavy weapons and complex systems,” which could partly be supplied via swap deals with NATO partners. Under the proposed mechanism, countries could deliver Soviet-model gear to Ukraine for immediate deployment and Germany would replace them with more modern weapons.

The motion — backed by the ruling Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats as well as the Christian Democrat-led conservatives — contains strong language on China. It urges the government to tell Beijing that Germany and the European Union expect it to “give up its approval of the war and instead actively support efforts for a cease-fire.”

Lawmakers also want Germany to undertake steps to end Russian oil and gas imports as soon as possible. Once this happens, the government should exclude all Russian banks from the Swift international bank communication system.

Germany has shown signs of dropping its resistance to delivering heavy weapons. This week, it approved the delivery of 50 anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine by the vehicle’s German manufacturer. The government has said more such steps will follow.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday listed equipment she said Germany has already delivered to Ukraine. This included thousands of anti-tank rocket launchers, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, Strela surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank mines, machine guns, hand grenades and ammunition in the double-digit millions, she said during government questions in the Bundestag.

Scholz has been caught between pressure to be more proactive in helping Ukraine and pushback from some members of his Social Democratic Party, who fear Germany could be drawn into a wider conflict. Public opinion is also divided on whether Germany should meet Kyiv’s demands for heavy weaponry, polls show.

“Ukraine is fighting for its freedom and territorial integrity but it’s also fighting for European values and freedom,” Robert Habeck, the economy minister and vice chancellor, said Thursday in a video posted on Twitter. “We have to support them with weapons knowing that it will lead to more deaths.”

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