Any provision by Germany to Ukraine of its Taurus air-launched cruise missiles hinges on the ability of the Ukrainians to handle the system themselves, while these would be intended for use solely within the territory of Ukraine, Nils Schmid, SPD parliamentary group spokesperson for foreign affairs at the German Bundestag, told ERR's Epp Ehand Monday, in an interview which follows in its entirety.
Epp Ehand: We are now approaching the second winter of this war, and the Ukrainian offensive has stalled somewhat. How strong is support for Ukraine in Germany?
Nils Schmid: Support for Ukraine in Germany is very strong and crosses party lines; the major opposition party, the CDU, also backs Ukraine. The situation in Germany here is very stable. We have had a lengthy discussion about sending weapons, and Ukraine can count on Germany's continued support, including the provision of weapons. We have stepped up ammunition production and have added new Leopard 2 main battle tanks and other equipment to the list, and will continue to do so.
Ehand: Will Ukraine be also getting Taurus missiles?
Schmid: This is a more complicated question. We are talking about a high-tech weapon that requires a lot of training and management, and a lot of data in order to actually attack Russian military targets inside Ukraine. Then again, we have no red lines or taboos over that. Discussions are ongoing, and the German government is communicating with the Ukrainian government about the weapons.
On the other hand, we know from the experience of this war, which has now lasted over a year, that one specific type of weapon can be significant, but the continuous support of a broad coalition is more significant still. Germany is currently the second largest donor of arms aid and we will continue to be so.
I have read in the media that it is important for Germany that the Taurus missiles do not stray into Russian territory, so the discussion is on whether to limit them somehow or to conclude agreements, as Britain and the U.S. have done with similar weapons?
There are various possibilities there; one is a technical limitation, the other is by political agreement, and these things are now the subject of discussion between the two governments.
Will Germany join the F-16 coalition?
We do support this arrangement. We don't have F-16 fighter jets ourselves, but we want to help train Ukrainian pilots, as we believe these weapons can make a difference. We support those countries which can supply these fighters. Training can also be provided in Germany itself.
Ukraine is in dire need of ammunition. How much have you increased production and how much can you support Ukraine in this regard?
We must boost ammunition production in Germany and Europe as a whole. First, so that Ukraine has more ammunition, sufficient to meet its own needs. European countries, too, need more ammunition, to replace that which they have given away in large quantities. For this reason it is vital that the EU has initiated an increase in ammunition production, not for the short term, but over a very long-term perspective.
What about Germany's own defensive capabilities? We had [Chancellor Olaf Scholz's] Zeitenwende ("turn of the times,") speech (days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022 – ed.), this year you adopted new security plans, but has it somehow changed the situation in warehouses or procurement?
The first part of the equipment has already arrived for the army, especially regarding personal equipment for soldiers, which is easy and quick to assemble. We have launched major programs for the acquisition of new fighter plans and helicopters, which will take more time to materialize, but which undoubtedly part of this Zeitenwende speech.
Then in 2024, Germany will reach the goal set by NATO for the first time, whereby defense spending will be 2 percent of GDP.
We finance activities from this special fund and we have pledged to continue with two percent, because Germany is a vital country in Europe and NATO; we must be committed to fulfilling the two percent requirement.
Coming back to the topic of Taurus, I understand that one line in the sand for Germany is certainly that strikes do not reach Russian territory. Is that so, and if so, why? I understand that the military thinking is that this is in fact necessary, in certain scenarios?
The most important line in the sand is that military personnel from NATO countries do not fight Russia, and on the territory of Ukraine. That would mean war between NATO and Russia, and everyone in NATO wants to avoid that outcome.
This is also a very important topic in respect of Taurus, because it is not such an easy system to handle. We need highly skilled operators on the ground, we need satellite data to target the enemy's military targets, and it is vital for us to be sure that the Ukrainians can handle them themselves without the involvement of NATO soldiers; this is the most difficult issue that needs to be resolved.
The question is not so much about the territory; on that, we can use technical restrictions or political agreements. We have a political agreement regarding the Leopard tanks, and the Ukrainian government has been very reliable thus far and has kept to its commitments, so there is no reason to believe that they wouldn't do so with Taurus. It's more about these other technical issues.
Why is it so important for Western countries that these weapons do not strike Russian territory, even though that may sometimes be required.
It is the Defense Forces of Ukraine who may see it that way. But it is vital for us, because we want to help Ukraine defend its own territory and kick the Russian invaders out of occupied Ukraine, including out of Crimea. For this reason, these weapons are intended only for use on the territory of Ukraine.
Are you also talking now about how this war should end?
It is too early to say right now, as the Russian side lacks the political will to start serious peace negotiations.
We must help Ukraine continue to defend its territory. Only when Ukraine is strong enough to force Putin to negotiate will we see how they can end things. This is up to Ukraine. But for the time being, we need to help Ukraine get stronger and become strong militarily too, as that is a prerequisite for serious negotiations.
Editor: Andrew Whyte