The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Germany’s defense minister resigns after string of blunders

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht speaks at a news conference in Berlin on Friday. (Clemens Bilan/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
4 min

BERLIN — German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht resigned Monday after a series of missteps that cast doubt on her ability to lead her country’s response to the war in Ukraine.

Lambrecht, 57, said she had asked Chancellor Olaf Scholz to dismiss her from office because “the media focus on my person” was distracting from policy decisions.

The embattled politician, a member of Scholz’s Social Democrats, had faced mounting pressure to step aside after a widely slammed New Year’s Eve message and revelations she took her son by military helicopter to northern Germany for a holiday. The public relations blunders added fuel to broader criticism of her handling of the war response at the Defense Ministry and a planned revamp of the country’s military.

Ukraine to Germany: Send armored vehicles to keep pressure on Russia

Her resignation leaves the government scrambling ahead of a crucial U.S.-led meeting of Western allies to coordinate military support for Ukraine at Ramstein Air Base in Germany this week. Germany is under pressure to up its support by sending Leopard 2 battle tanks and to give the green light to Poland to reexport German-manufactured tanks in its stocks to Kyiv.

Boris Pistorius, the interior minister of the German state of Lower Saxony, has been picked to replace Lambrecht and will be sworn in Thursday, the government announced Tuesday. Scholz described Pistorius as an “extremely experienced politician who has been tried and tested in administration.”

Lambrecht’s appointment as defense minister in Scholz’s first government just over a year ago faced criticism from the outset with questions over her lack of experience. In January last year, she was mocked for a statement heralding Germany’s decision to send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine instead of weapons and in her first interview she admitted to not having knowledge of military ranks.

Last spring, it emerged that she allowed her son to travel with her on a government owned helicopter on the way to an Easter vacation on the German island of Sylt.

The New Year’s message, though, was seen as a final straw in a string of embarrassments. In the video posted on her Instagram account, she stood outside on a Berlin street with the sound of fireworks ringing out behind her and reflected on a year with “war raging in Europe.”

“Associated with that for me were very many special impressions that I was able to gain, many, many encounters with interesting and great people,” she said. “For that, I say a heartfelt thank you.”

Lambrecht puts all of Germany to shame!” read a headline in German tabloid Bild, Europe’s most widely read newspaper. It criticized the production values for being “embarrassing honorary village mayor” and described her words, which did not mention Ukrainian suffering, as “shameful.”

But there have also been concerns about her ability to steer Germany’s defense policy during such a crucial period. She has faced questions over her competency in properly implementing the spending for Germany’s more than $100 billion fund to revamp its military.

Nearly a year after Scholz’s “Zeitenwende” speech, where he announced the funding as part of a turning point in Germany’s defense policy, some analysts have said Germany’s underfunded military is in a worse state than when it began.

Germany has struggled to meet its commitments to a NATO quick reaction force after all of its 18 Puma infantry fighting vehicles earmarked for deployment failed during a training exercise last month. The Defense Ministry said it would use its decades-old Marders instead.

For years, Germany’s military has been chronically poorly equipped, a situation that the new funding was hoped to rectify. But Germany has backtracked on pledges to finally meet its NATO requirement of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

Allied defense ministers, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, arrive in the country for the Ramstein meeting on Friday.

Ahead of the meeting, Germany has showed a softening of its position on sending tanks to Ukraine. Economy Minister Robert Habeck last week said that Berlin should not stand in the way of a Polish decision to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine. As the tanks are manufactured in Germany, they require a go ahead from Berlin to be sent to the battlefield.

But in a blow to hopes that Berlin could quickly send its own tanks, German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall has indicated that it will take until next year to refurbish and repair the Leopard tanks it has in stock.

“The vehicles must be completely dismantled and rebuilt,” chief executive Armin Papperger told Bild on Sunday.