Germany’s Ringtausch project provides justification for mega investments into the Bundeswehr. Writes Paul Antonopoulos
Berlin’s Ringtausch project, in which Germany will supply states with modern weapons if they give up former Eastern bloc made weapons and send them to Ukraine, serves to make a profit not only for Germany, but also the entire Western defense industry. Poland, Czechia, Slovenia and Greece have already joined the German initiative.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis agreed on the project during their May 31 meeting. Now the two countries’ defense ministers are active in this arms exchange program and have also reached an agreement on what Greek media say is the opening of a German arms factory in northern Greece. The investment is said to be worth about half a billion euros.
Although the Germans will claim the arms exchange program is favorable for Ukraine as it will receive Eastern bloc weapons it already knows how to operate, there will still be huge profits to be made. German weapons are outdated and Berlin plans to invest as much as 100 billion euros in the modernization of the Bundeswehr. Effectively, Ringtausch is an opportunity to get rid of some outdated systems whilst appeasing domestic criticisms for not doing enough to assist Ukraine.
The exchange of old weapons to be sent to Ukraine and replaced with new ones began in the first phase of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. Poland, the Baltic states, and also some Western countries such as the Netherlands, wanted to get rid of old weapons, primarily those purchased from Russia or acquired from the USSR.
By relieving Russian and Soviet military equipment, European countries are also relieving themselves of ties to Russian military companies. This, at the same time, frees up some space from competition for the US military industrial complex. This industry is now proving to be a matter of great importance given the economic crisis, falling GDP and inflation in the West, even if the industry was initially a main driving force as to why the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.
None-the-less, despite the heavy pressure sustained by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s office in relation to the Ukraine crisis, German politics is wary of relations with Russia. That could also be a reason why Germany is not supplying arms directly to Ukraine and is instead relying on third parties.
Although the German public have been avidly anti-war since World War II, the historical distance and restraint was exposed at the start of the war in Ukraine as there was intense public pressure for the German government to do more to support Ukraine. In this way, Ringtausch became the solution.
However, question marks over Ringtausch exist, especially when we look at the current situation in Poland. Poland has already sent T-72 tanks to Ukraine with the expectation that Germany would supply it with “Leopards” – something that has not yet happened.
It is a paradoxical situation that Germany wants to help Ukraine by relying on third countries giving up their own stocks of Eastern bloc made weapons. This suggests that Germany, as well as these third countries, do not have the desire to send Ukraine modern Western-made systems. By sending disposable assemblies, it further evidences that there is no real desire among the majority of the European Union to help Ukraine in a serious way.
The Ringtausch project allows Scholz to emerge from a vicious cycle in which he has suffered fierce criticism and accusations for not supporting Ukraine strongly enough, but also attacked for advocating sanctions and an oil embargo against Russia because of the economic cost. It also points to a struggle between France and Germany, especially as Emmanuel Macron is seemingly more direct and confrontational with Moscow.
Germany does not pursue an overtly aggressive foreign policy. All of its current activities regarding the crisis in Ukraine, including Ringtausch, are with the aim of strengthening the weakened internal cohesion of German society. As this is the main driving force, it is unlikely that Germany will escalate a weapons program for Ukraine beyond what it currently is. At the same time, a pretext is being established on why the Bundeswehr needs upgrading, which will undoubtedly also include contributions from US industries.
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst.
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