In a major change for Europe, Germany will spend $113 billion on defense

BRUSSELS (AP) — Germany announced on Sunday that it is committing 100 billion euros ($113 billion) to a special fund for the armed forces and will now keep defense spending above 2% of GDP. It was one of the most significant shifts in European security policy in decades, prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement, which came hours after Germany announced it would send weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine, underscored the extent to which Russia’s war in Ukraine was rewriting Europe’s security policy after World War II.

It came as Israel offered itself as a potential mediator to help broker an end to the fighting, given that it has good relations with Russia and Ukraine, and protesters descended on the streets of European capitals to demand an end to the war, the biggest ground offensive on the continent since World War II.

Among the tens of thousands of people who gathered outside Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to protest the invasion, some carried posters with slogans such as “Not Ukraine”, “Tanks to Windmills” and “Putin, go to therapy and leave Ukraine and the world in peace.”

At the Vatican, Ukrainian flags waved in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis delivered his weekly Sunday blessing.

Scholz’s announcement of new defense funding is significant for Germany, which has been criticized by the United States and other NATO allies for failing to invest adequately in its defense budget. defense. NATO member states have pledged to spend 2% of their GDP on defence, but Germany has always spent much less.

“It is clear that we must invest much more in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and our democracy,” Scholz told a special session of the Bundestag in Berlin.

Scholz said the 100 billion euro fund was currently a one-off measure for 2022. It was not immediately clear whether similar funding would be allocated in future years. But Scholz indicated that Germany will exceed the 2% of GDP threshold in the future, signaling a future overall increase in defense spending.

The change in German policy came as Italy, Austria and Belgium joined other European countries in closing their airspace to Russian planes, and Israel announced it was sending 100 tonnes of humanitarian aid – medical equipment and medicines, tents, sleeping bags and blankets – to help civilians. caught in the fighting in Ukraine.

Israel also offered itself as a potential mediator in a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin and Israel said. A senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the confidential diplomatic matter, said Bennett had told Putin that Israel stood ready to help as much as needed, and at any time, in order to to help resolve the crisis and bring the parties together. .

On the European front, the interior and foreign ministers of the European Union held emergency talks on Sunday to respond to the crisis.

Interior ministers discussed how to deal with an influx of refugees from Ukraine, as well as how to deal with security issues at the EU’s borders with Ukraine and humanitarian aid to the country. The UN refugee agency said on Sunday that more than 365,000 people had fled the country and estimated that 4 million could flee if the fighting spreads.

Later on Sunday, EU foreign ministers met via video conference to discuss sending additional military aid to Ukraine.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he would urge ministers to approve “an emergency aid package for the Ukrainian armed forces, to support them in their heroic fight”.

To strengthen its military training and support missions around the world, the 27-nation bloc has set up a European Peace Facility; a fund with a cap of around 5.7 billion euros ($6.4 billion). Part of the money can be used to train and equip partner countries, including with lethal weapons.

The meeting comes a day after Germany announced a major policy change to send arms and other supplies directly to Ukraine. Among them are 500 “Stinger” missiles, used to shoot down helicopters and fighter jets, and 1,000 anti-tank weapons.

Supplying Ukraine with weapons purchased with EU money would be unprecedented.

Borrell said EU ministers would also assess “new measures in support of Ukraine, against Russian aggression.” The meeting is informal, so no binding decisions on support or further sanctions can be made, but their recommendations could be enacted in the coming days.

The meeting came after the United States and European countries agreed on Saturday to impose the most potentially crippling financial sanctions yet on Russia by attacking central bank reserves that underpin the Russian economy and cutting off some Russian banks from the SWIFT global financial network.

Catholic and Orthodox religious leaders, meanwhile, on Sunday prayed for peace, expressed solidarity with Ukrainians and denounced the Russian invasion.

“Those who wage war forget humanity,” Pope Francis said during his Sunday midday blessing in St. Peter’s Square, as a cluster of Ukrainian blue and yellow flags waved below. He said such a mentality “is based on the evil and perverse logic of weapons, which is the furthest thing from the will of God”.

Francis refrained from citing Russia by name, out of apparent deference to his hopes of maintaining an open dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Earlier on Sunday, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople described the invasion of Russia as “beyond all sense of law and morality” and pleaded for an end to the war.

Patriarch Bartholomew is considered the spiritual leader and first among equals of Eastern Orthodox Christians around the world. He granted independence from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which in 2019 separated it from the Russian Church to which it had been linked since 1686. The Russian Orthodox Church consequently severed its relations with him.

___

Schultheis contributed from Vienna, Austria. Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.

___

Follow all AP stories about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

About Linda Jackson

Check Also

A battle over how to fight for Roe: Protests at judges’ homes fuel resentment

But critics say protesters shouldn’t be there at all. Some Republicans have pointed to a …