Olaf Scholz cites risk of nuclear war in refusal to send tanks to Ukraine

BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended his widely criticized refusal to send heavy weapons to Ukraine, citing the danger of nuclear war.

“I said very early on that we must do everything possible to avoid a direct military confrontation between NATO and a highly armed superpower like Russia, a nuclear power,” Scholz told German weekly Der Spiegel in an interview published Friday, adding that he would continue to strive “to prevent an escalation that would lead to a third world war.”

“There must be no nuclear war,” he said.

Asked what made him sure that sending German tanks to Ukraine would trigger a catastrophic reaction from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Scholz argued that “there is no textbook for this situation where you can read at what point we are perceived as a belligerent.”

“That’s why I’m not squinting at poll numbers or letting myself be irritated by shrill calls,” the chancellor added in an obvious reference to the growing criticism of his stance at home and abroad. “The consequences of a mistake would be dramatic,” he said.

The Ukrainian government has called on Western allies to urgently send large amounts of heavy weaponry to help in the fight against Russia’s invasion, which has now entered a new phase focused on the east of the country.

Adding to the pressure on Scholz, the opposition Christian Democrats announced that they would submit a motion to parliament next week asking the government to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine.

“The chancellor does not listen to arguments and justifies his policy with ever new excuses,” Christian Democratic MP Johann Wadephul tweeted.

The Social Democratic chancellor has disagreed on the issue with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens and some among the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) — the third party in government — also openly oppose the chancellor.

“In close coordination with the U.S., France, Italy, the U.K. and Canada, we have supplied weapons for the upcoming battles in eastern Ukraine,” Scholz insisted to Spiegel when asked whether he saw Germany largely as a financier of the Ukrainian war effort while others should send weapons.

But he conceded that “the Bundeswehr’s options for supplying further weapons from its arsenal have largely been exhausted,” arguing that German austerity in all things defense had left its mark on the armed forces.

Echoing remarks by Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, Scholz said that instead of Berlin directly supplying heavy weaponry, several Eastern European NATO partners would deliver weapons from Soviet-designed stocks that “can be deployed without lengthy training, without further logistics, and without soldiers from our countries.”

Germany would then “gradually fill the gaps created by these deliveries … as just discussed in the case of Slovenia,” he said.

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