A veteran but low-profile politician will be named Germany’s new defense minister, the government announced, filling the role at a crucial time when the country is under intense pressure to increase its commitment to Ukraine, particularly by allowing it to use tanks.
Boris Pistorius, 62, who has been the interior minister of the northern state of Lower Saxony for the past decade, will face his first major task on Friday when Western allies meet at the US military base Ramstein in southwestern Germany to discuss providing Kiev with more weapons and equipment.
Until now, Germany has been extremely cautious about approving the deployment of Leopard heavy tanks to Ukraine, due to concerns that the decision could lead to an escalation of the war. Other countries that possess tanks of German design need permission from Berlin before they can be sent to another country.
Pistorius is a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party, but his appointment by Scholz was a surprise, not least because he is little known in Germany and little known abroad. He has a reputation as a shrewd, no-nonsense policymaker.
Scholz was forced to replace Christine Lambrecht, who made a series of mistakes during her short tenure as a minister in his coalition government, including admitting she didn’t understand the composition of the German military and failing to make progress in procuring new equipment and resources through a reform fund. of 100 billion euros.
Announcing her resignation on Monday, Lambrecht said she was unable to properly concentrate on work because of “months of media focus on me”.
Scholz was under pressure, particularly within his own party, to appoint a woman, in order to fulfill his campaign promise to have male-female parity in his cabinet. The Association of the German Armed Forces and the Association of Reservists called on Scholz to select the candidate with “the best leadership abilities”.
Importantly for Scholz, Pistorius has come out in favor of helping Ukraine defend itself, and has previously expressed skepticism in the conflict over the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia.
Pistorius continues with three female defense ministers who have served Germany over the past decade. Before that, only a man had ever held that function.
Robert Habeck, Minister of Economy and Deputy Chancellor, said that the first and key decision of the new Minister of Defense will be related to the issue of tanks for Ukraine.
Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, ahead of the announcement, he said: “Once that person, the defense minister, is announced, that will be the first issue that they will have to decide concretely.
He said the “urgent question” of how to support Ukraine to defend itself was an important short-term decision that the minister would have to deal with.
During talks in Davos with Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko, Habek reportedly pledged further German support and aid to Ukraine, including the transfer of additional weapons. Klitschko wrote on his Telegram account that “positive decisions” were made at the meeting and that “good news is coming soon.”
There has long been speculation that Pistorius has broader political ambitions. He campaigned to become leader of the Social Democrats and is believed to have been discussed as a potential interior minister in the central government when Scholz forms his new administration in late 2022.
His colleagues on Tuesday described him as having a reputation among the interior ministers of other German states as a good expert on internal security. His biography indicates time spent serving in the military in the early 1980s, but he is not otherwise believed to have any military experience or expertise. National military service in Germany was abolished in 2011. Since the invasion of Ukraine, there has been a debate about whether to reinstate it.
Pistorius is expected to show expediency in acquiring new equipment and to solve chronic problems such as ammunition shortages and malfunctions in existing equipment. He will also have to oversee the withdrawal of German troops from Mali, which is due to take place next year and which is feared could create a dangerous power vacuum in the region.