The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown that the European defense system needs to be modernized. At the same time, Russian propaganda spreads the manipulation that it was Ukraine that brought European defense to a terrible state. But this is not true.
At the end of February 2022, a few days after the start of the Russian war in Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany was radically changing its approach to army funding, which had long stayed minimal due to the pacifism of German politicians.
Scholz promised to raise annual spending on the Bundeswehr to the NATO benchmark of 2% of GDP and to invest €100 billion in army modernization as a separate and urgent measure. In May, the German parliament voted to create a special fund to which the 100 billion euros were to be allocated.
But now, almost a year after Scholz’s speech that stirred up the world, there are no tangible results of the plan he outlined. This was stated on Tuesday by Eva Högl, the German Parliament’s defense commissioner, in her annual report to the government.
Högl sharply condemned the government’s delays and noted that the country’s armed forces are now even worse equipped than a year ago.
“Unfortunately, I have to point out that not a single euro or cent from this special fund has been spent in 2022,” said Högl, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Olaf Scholz.
According to her, the armed forces lack “literally everything,” and some military units do not even have toilets, clean showers (…), sports facilities, kitchens, first aid stations, or properly equipped weapons rooms.
What they plan to spend 100 billion euros on
The German Ministry of Defense announced the first major projects to be paid for from the special fund only in December 2022.
The then head of the ministry, Christine Lambrecht, said that Germany had ordered modern American F-35 aircraft, as well as small arms and radios for a total of €13 billion.
Lambrecht was widely criticized for her delays in both decisions to help Ukraine and to modernize Germany’s army, and she resigned in January 2023.
Back in the summer, the Ministry of Defense reported that a special fund of 100 billion euros would help the country’s army radically upgrade its equipment.
In addition to F-35 fighter jets, it was supposed to include Boeing’s CH-47F Chinook heavy transport helicopters, U212 submarines, new ships, as well as combat vehicles and armored personnel carriers for the ground forces.
Help for Ukraine
Even though Germany is delaying the planned modernization of its army, the country continues to send large amounts of military aid to Ukraine.
Over the past year, Berlin has provided Kyiv with air defense systems, rocket launchers, armored personnel carriers, ammunition, vehicles, and equipment for sappers.
In January 2023, Germany, after much hesitation, decided to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and allow other countries to do the same.
Russian disinformation and attempts to disrupt support for Ukraine
Recently, some Russian media outlets, as well as pro-Russian Telegram channels, citing a Foreign Affairs article, have spread information that Ukraine has allegedly “brought the defense of the EU countries to a terrible state.”
The idea that military assistance to Ukraine has allegedly significantly depleted or “brought to a terrible state” the defense capabilities of European countries is one of the popular narratives of Kremlin propaganda amid claims that Ukraine is preparing a counteroffensive in 2023.
In a recent case, propagandists used manipulation of a Foreign Affairs article by Max Bregman and Sophia Besh titled Why European Defense Still Depends on America from March 7, 2023.
The Foreign Affairs publication does not say that Ukraine has allegedly “brought the EU’s defense capabilities to a terrible state.”
In fact, the authors of the publication write that Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has revealed pre-existing problems in the defense of European countries and that these problems remain unresolved even after a year of the war.
Among the urgent problems in the EU’s defense capabilities, the authors of the publication emphasize on:
– the underfunding of the military sector over the past 20 years;
– the system’s unpreparedness for defense actions in the EU;
– the lack of a common defense market to meet the needs of European security;
– the uncoordinated efforts of the EU members to achieve their defense goals;
– the dependence of the armed forces of the EU countries on the United States in solving major military tasks, etc.
The authors of the publication believe that despite the hope that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a transformational moment for European security, unfortunately, the last year has shown how European countries “are doubling their dependence on the United States and are unable to coordinate their actions.”
Unfortunately, years of cooperation with an increasingly aggressive Russia and an unwillingness to pay attention to this country’s imperial ambitions, ignoring the war in Ukraine, which actually began in 2014, and dependence on Russian energy have left most European countries defenseless.
Indeed, as of 2018, Ukrainian military intelligence reported that Russia had supplied its hybrid proxy forces in Donbas (the so-called self-proclaimed republics of the DPR and LPR) with 475 tanks, 948 armored combat vehicles, 762 artillery systems, and 208 multiple-launch rocket systems. Thus, the number of tanks in service with the Russian militants exceeded the similar figures of the armies of NATO member states such as the United Kingdom, Germany, or France.
The only mechanism that protected European states was the system of collective defense. Instead, the year of war in Ukraine has shown how costly the war with Russia is in terms of material and human resources.
That is why European leaders will have to explain to their voters that their taxes are needed to modernize their armies, to produce weapons and ammunition, and, of course, to help Ukraine.
While Ukrainians are stopping Russia, this gives other European countries time to live in peace.