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‘Funding Putin war machine!’ Neil blasts Scholz as ‘complicated’ weapons sent to Ukraine

Ukraine: NATO and EU set to supply 'more lethal' weapons

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An overwhelming vote in favour of providing Ukraine with “heavy weapons and complex [weapon] systems” on Thursday means Kyiv is finally getting what it has for weeks been asking for.

But while the passing of the petition — with 586 votes in favour, 100 against, and seven abstentions — represents a historic and widely welcomed shift in policy for the European country, some argue the move was too slow coming.

According to Mr Neil, from a military perspective, it would have been possible for Olaf Scholz’s government to make the move happen much sooner – without “months of prevarication and excuses”.

The former BBC presenter said: “Better late than never, you might think.

“Except that the 50 Gepard (German for cheetah) anti-aircraft vehicles it has approved first saw service in the 1960s and, despite several upgrades, haven’t been part of the German army’s arsenal for over a decade.

“But if Berlin was reluctant to arm Ukraine, it was also in no rush to stop itself funding President Putin’s war machine.”

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On the basis the Gepard systems were phased out from active duty in Germany in 2010, Mr Neil added: “The defence company that had kept them in storage wanted to send them to Ukraine in February.

“But Chancellor Olaf Scholz blocked that – until this week, when he finally bowed to pressure from NATO allies and powerful voices inside Germany.”

In addition to heavy weapons, such as anti-aircraft systems and armoured vehicles, the measure passed by German MPs this week also includes provisions for sending heavier equipment to eastern NATO allies.

Further, Berlin will deploy more soldiers to boost NATO presence in Eastern Europe as well as encourage Russian forces to lay down their arms and seek asylum in Germany and the European Union.

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But a sceptical Mr Neil put into question whether the newly-approved aid will truly be of help to Kyiv.

He claimed: “How big a boon the Gepards will be to Ukraine’s military remains to be seen.

“Military experts say it’s a complicated weapon that requires months of training.”

Unlike other Western allies, Germany did not supply weapons to Ukraine before Russia’s full-scale invasion began and even blocked other nations from sending German-origin military equipment.

This is because of a long-standing approach within the EU superpower of not exporting arms to war zones.

When Mr Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), the climate-friendly Greens and the business-focused Free Democrats (FDP) formed a three-way power-sharing alliance in December 2021, they did not think they would have to deal with unravelling a Merkel-era way of functioning.

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When sworn in, the new ruling coalition believed it would focus on the country’s unparalleled energy turnaround, fewer weapons exports and a boost in Germany’s minimum wage.

February 24, however, changed it all – more so given the growing calls for the leader of Europe’s top economy to ramp up aid for Kyiv in the weeks that followed the launch of the war.

Mr Neil, writing for the Daily Mail, recalled the speech made by Mr Scholz to the German parliament at the very early stages of the conflict.

At the time, the broadcaster said, the decisiveness with which “the recently elected Chancellor laid waste to Germany’s long-standing policy of cosying up to the Kremlin” impressed to the point of being hailed a turning point.

“Yet in the aftermath of this supposed watershed,” he continued, “Scholz was nowhere to be seen. It was almost as if he’d gone into hiding.”

He added: “No wonder Ukrainians feel Germany’s heart is not quite in its efforts to arm them with the weapons it desperately and quickly needs.”

Mr Neil’s criticism echoes that of several German MPs, including CDU head Friedrich Merz, who sharply condemned Mr Scholz for going away on a diplomatic visit to Toyko while the Bundestag was debating the arms issue in Ukraine.

Mr Merz accused the Chancellor of “hesitation and timidity”.

While others defended the trip by pointing out Japan’s significance as Germany’s most important partner in Asia, the move is unlikely to help the leader evade scrutiny over his dealings with the crisis.

A new dpa/YouGov poll suggests some 45 percent of Germans are unhappy with his leadership throughout the war, compared to 37 percent who approve of his response to the conflict.

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