- Germany is offering 5,000 helmets to Ukraine amid fears of a Russian invasion.
- Kyiv’s mayor called the offer a “joke,” asking if “pillows” were next.
- Unlike other NATO members, Germany has declined to send weapons to Ukraine.
Germany on Wednesday announced it’s offering 5,000 helmets to Ukraine amid fears a Russian invasion is around the corner, in a move that was denounced by Kyiv’s mayor as a “joke.”
“I received a letter from the Ukrainian embassy, requesting support with military equipment, helmets to be precise,” Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht told reporters, per Reuters. “We will supply Ukraine with 5,000 helmets as a clear signal: We are at your side.”
But Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of the Ukrainian capital and a former professional boxer, said the offer left him “speechless.”
“The behaviour of the German government leaves me speechless. The defence ministry apparently hasn’t realized that we are confronted with perfectly equipped Russian forces that can start another invasion of Ukraine at any time,” he told the German tabloid Bild, as reported by Reuters.
“What kind of support will Germany send next? Pillows?” Klitschko said.
The paltry offer stands in contrast to the arms shipments and warnings by the US and other NATO allies, renewing questions about whether German leaders are resisting moves to deter Russian aggression in an attempt not to affect the new Russian gas pipeline that could affordably heat as much as a third of German homes.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, ripped the move as a “purely symbolic gesture” and “just a drop in the bucket.”
“It’s not even a consolation prize,” the ambassador told the German news agency DPA.
A German defense ministry spokesperson couldn’t say whether the helmets were being offered free of charge or if Germany was expecting payment, Politico reported.
Ukraine recently issued an urgent request to Germany for 100,000 helmets as well as protective vests, hoping to provide them to volunteers signing up for the military to defend their country in case Russia invades.
Russia since late 2021 has gathered tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border, sparking concerns a new war is around the corner in Europe. The Kremlin claims it has no plans to invade, but has made demands for binding security guarantees from NATO that the alliance would never agree to. This includes barring Ukraine from ever joining NATO. Ukraine has sought to join the alliance for years, and maintains robust ties with it.
A diplomatic resolution to the hostilities has proved elusive so far.
Germany has declined to send lethal military aid to Ukraine out of fears of provoking Russia — prompting criticism from allies. Other NATO countries, including the US and the UK, have sent lethal aid to Ukraine. Berlin has cited Germany’s history of atrocities in the region in defending its refusal to send weapons.
Germany is the world’s fourth largest weapons exporter. The German government also recently blocked Estonia from exporting old German howitzers to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Saturday accused Germany of “undermining unity” and “encouraging” Russian President Vladimir Putin by declining to supply weapons.
Germany is also sending Ukraine a field hospital, but it’s apparent that Ukraine feels Berlin’s support is insufficient.
Indeed, critics have accused Berlin of abandoning Ukraine and prioritizing Nord Stream 2, an undersea Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, over helping Kyiv stand against Russian aggression.
The controversial pipeline is completed but not yet operational, pending German certification.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Washington have pushed for sanctions against the pipeline. But the Biden administration has urged against sanctions targeting Nord Steam 2, prioritizing maintaining strong ties with Berlin in the hopes of presenting a unified front against Russia.
The Biden administration last May waived Congressional sanctions against the pipeline that had drawn Germany’s ire. In July, the administration came to an agreement with Germany that it will pursue sanctions if Russia attempts to “use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine.”
The $11 billion pipeline, owned by Russia’s state-run gas company Gazprom, is poised to help heat 26 million German homes at an affordable price.
Opponents of the pipeline, which runs across the Baltic Sea, contend it could give Russia dangerous leverage over Europe. Nord Stream 2 bypasses Ukraine — depriving it of billions in gas transit fees. Berlin has promised to reimburse Ukraine for the transit fees that it will lose as a result of the pipeline until at least 2024. Even still, the Ukrainian government vehemently opposes Nord Stream 2.
Germany has also been fairly opaque on whether it would agree to shut the pipeline down if Russia invades Ukraine, but it hasn’t completely ruled out such a move, either.
In response to a question on the pipeline during a press conference with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg last week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it’s “clear that there will be a high price to pay and that everything will have to be discussed should there be a military intervention in Ukraine.”
“The US and Germany jointly declared last summer: if Russia uses energy as a weapon or if there is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia will have to pay a high price,” Emily Haber, Germany’s ambassador to the US, said in a tweet on Wednesday. “Nothing will be off the table, including Nord Stream 2.”
But Germany’s stance on lethal aid to Ukraine, as well as Nord Stream 2, has the Biden administration facing tough questions about Berlin’s commitment to challenging Moscow’s threats against Kyiv.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said the US was “absolutely confident in German solidarity” in confronting Russia, adding that “different countries have different authorities, they have different capabilities, they have different areas of expertise, and we’re bringing all of those to bear.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany in comments to the Washington Post said that Berlin’s rhetoric on the Ukraine-Russia crisis is “much too soft” and will be perceived by Putin as a “sign of weakness and hesitation.”
“The vast majority of Ukrainians even believe that this unwillingness of Germany to act preventively and not to put the Kremlin under extreme pressure is nothing else [than] a pure appeasement politics,” Melnyk said.