Boris Pistorius was appointed the new German minister of defense to replace Christine Lambrecht, who had recently resigned after a series of failures. Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced it on January 17, 2023.
Pistorius took the oath of office in the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, on January 18. Who is he, why was Christine Lambrecht fired, and how will the new appointment affect the supply of weapons to Ukraine for the war with Russia?
Who Boris Pistorius is
Boris Pistorius, 62, has been interior minister of Lower Saxony since 2013 and has long been seen as a candidate to assume a national position. He had previously served as mayor of his hometown of Osnabrück, where his close friend Chancellor Olaf Scholz was born.
Although the new minister’s name hadn’t been mentioned in media lists of possible candidates, Scholz is certain he made the right choice:
"With his competence, assertiveness, and big heart, he is exactly the right person to lead the Bundeswehr (armed forces) through this turning point," he said in a statement.
Importantly, Pistorius has no experience in the military field, although he completed his military service in the Bundeswehr in 1980–81. Having been involved in security policy for years, he is well-informed on refugee policies and is quite confrontational towards his colleagues from the EU. This stance has earned Pistorius a reputation as a practical politician, which, according to metro.us, was also noted by Olaf Scholz.
"Pistorius is an extremely experienced politician who has administrative experience and has been involved in security policy for years."
According to the Spiеgel, Pistorius has long been said to have federal political ambitions. In 2019, he ran with the Saxon Minister Petra Köpping for the federal presidency of the SPD, among other candidates, against Olaf Scholz.
What is the new German defense minister’s position towards Ukraine?
Until recently, Pistorius was a member of the German-Russian friendship group in the Bundesrat, the upper house of the German parliament.
However, in June 2022, the politician reversed his position and called not only for the freezing but also the confiscation of Russian oligarchs' assets in order to use them to help Ukraine.
Moreover, Pistorius was behind the ban on the display of the 'Z' symbol of Russian aggression in Lower Saxony.
asked Volodymyr Fesenko, Chairman of the Board of the Penta Center of Applied Political Studies, Petro Burkovskyi, Executive Director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, and political scientist Dmytro Voronkov about the possible impact the new German defense minister can have on the provision of aid to Ukraine.
We need to understand one simple thing. In Germany, defense policy, foreign policy, and policy towards Ukraine are defined not by the defense minister but by the coalition of three parties. The chancellor is the most important person in making key decisions.
The main problem behind today’s uncertainty concerning military aid, and in particular sending Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, is associated with Chancellor Scholz’s peculiar political style and hesitancy.
The defense minister, on the other hand, can state his position to the chancellor, the coalition government, or publicly. Therefore, whoever might be the minister of defense, they won’t define this policy single-handedly, but they can have an impact on its formation, promotion, or implementation (for example, after the decision is made, much depends on the minister, including how exactly aid is provided to us and how quickly this or that type of equipment is sent).
To be sure, the defense minister wields considerable power, particularly in terms of aid to Ukraine, but he cannot define policy on his own.
The German defense minister can impact aid to Ukraine, but he doesn’t define the policy single-handedly.
There’s an official government in Germany, which has been formed by three parties: the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats (a liberal center-right-leaning party), and the Greens (a center-left party that is close to the Social Democrats but has its own niche).
The principle of the German coalition system requires a consensus of all the parties to be reached. That is, a decision cannot be made by a single minister unless the chancellor, as the head of the government, gives his consent.
Prior to the war, the Ministry of Defense played little role in foreign policy. It has changed a bit since the ministry of defense is one of the key ministries responsible for Germany’s support for Ukraine.
As for the parties, the Social Democrats are the most skeptical toward Ukraine. The new minister is known to be a Social Democrat from Western Germany, but I believe he has no pro-Russian sentiment.
This man is a bureaucrat, a technocrat with a businesslike approach to everything. Furthermore, the media reported that he called not only for freezing but for confiscation of Russian assets. And this can work in our favor.
Boris Pistorius may stop this game of making up excuses and try to address the issue in a businesslike manner to give us the weapons we need (the Leopard battle tanks — The Page).
Boris Pistorius may speed up the provision of Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.
Dmytro Voronkov, on the contrary, believes that the new appointment may decrease military aid to Ukraine:
"The new candidate, Boris Pistorius, is Scholz’s ally from the Social Democrats. The position of the party provides for looking for diplomatic solutions to restore peace. In my opinion, this may signal an attempt by Germany to switch to diplomacy, like it was before 2014."
The expert also notes that the former defense minister, Christine Lambrecht, who was criticized for not helping Ukraine enough, could be in favor of increasing the aid.
Christine Lambrecht left her office for a reason. She ended up in a situation where she wasn’t allowed to do anything but was at the same time criticized. It turns out that Scholz will be more comfortable having appointed his close ally, who has similar political views and, accordingly, embraces this policy (given the official position of the party to which they both belong). I believe that the resignation of the defense minister is associated with these internal disagreements concerning Ukraine.
In his opinion, Germany will try to talk more while delaying the processes of delivering weapons to Ukraine, since the only thing that forced Germany to provide aid was the position of its EU partners and the U.S. That is, the activity of the allies is what keeps Germany from staying aside.
Petro Burkovskyi, however, doesn’t agree as to the position and work of the former German defense minister, Christine Lambrecht. According to him, she was one of the officials who blocked aid to Ukraine:
"Despite Ukraine's calls since last April to provide weapon systems, especially Leopard battle tanks, Germany responded to provide them only this January. So far, the Social Democratic Party has been fiercely opposed to supplying Ukraine with these armored vehicles."
The expert emphasizes that Lambrecht belonged to the caucus that didn’t want to sever ties with Russia and that she sought any excuse to slow or prevent the delivery of equipment.
Finally, after Poland, the U.S., and the U.K. announced that they would provide battle tanks, it deprived the Social Democrats of their trump card (they said they wouldn’t give Ukraine tanks before someone else does it). Lambrecht resigned because she couldn't come up with any more excuses for Germany's failure to supply tanks to Ukraine. Her resignation is merely a political ploy to transfer all responsibility to her.
Executive Director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation
He added that the issue of Berlin providing Ukraine with weapons is not only a domestic German issue, as it has reached the European level.
It is because of the maneuvers of the Social Democrats that Germany has drastically lost its authority in the EU, and even former allies, primarily the Scandinavian and Baltic countries, are suspicious of it.
"The political capital Germany once had has been squandered significantly. It has to support the delivery of weapons to restore trust and authority among its allies," the political scientist summarized.