Protection Minister Christine Lambrecht resigns amid criticism associated to Ukraine

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BERLIN – German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht resigned on 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 asked Chancellor Olaf Scholz to remove her from office because “the media focus on me” distracts from political decisions.

The embattled politician, a member of Scholz’s Social Democrats, has faced increasing pressure to resign after a widely slammed New Year’s Eve message and revelations that she had taken her son on holiday to northern Germany in a military helicopter. The PR blunders added oil to broader criticism of their handling of the war response at the Department of Defense and a planned reshape of the country’s military.

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Her resignation has the government rattling ahead of a crucial US-led meeting of Western allies to coordinate military support to Ukraine this week at Germany’s Ramstein Air Force Base. Germany is under pressure to increase its support by sending Leopard 2 main battle tanks and to give Poland the green light to re-export German-made tanks from its stocks to Kyiv.

Scholz has accepted the resignation, and a successor will be decided “as soon as possible”, said government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann at a press conference on Monday.

Lambrecht’s appointment as defense minister in the first Scholz government a little over a year ago was criticized from the start, with doubts about her lack of experience. In January last year, she was ridiculed for a statement announcing Germany’s decision to send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine instead of weapons, and in her first interview she admitted to having no knowledge of military ranks.

It emerged last spring that she allowed her son to travel with her in a state-owned helicopter to the German island of Sylt for the Easter holidays.

However, the New Year’s message was seen as the final straw in a series of embarrassments. In the video posted on her Instagram account, she stood outside on a Berlin street, fireworks banged behind her and reviewed a year of “war raging in Europe”.

“For me, this involved a lot of special impressions that I was able to gain, many, many encounters with interesting and great people,” she said. “I would like to say a big thank you for that.”

“Lambrecht puts all Germany to shame!” Read a headline in German tabloid Bild, Europe’s most-read newspaper. She slammed the production values ​​as an “embarrassing honorary village mayor” and called her words, which failed to mention Ukrainian suffering, “shameful”.

But there were also concerns about their ability to direct German defense policy at such a crucial time. She has faced questions about her ability to properly implement spending on Germany’s more than $100 billion military modernization fund.

Almost a year after Scholz’s “Zeitenwende” speech, in which he announced the funding as part of a shift in German defense policy, some analysts say Germany’s underfunded military is in worse shape than when it started.

Germany is struggling to meet its commitments to a NATO rapid reaction force after all of its 18 Puma infantry fighting vehicles earmarked for the deployment failed during a training exercise last month. The Department of Defense said it would use its decades-old Martens instead.

Germany’s military has been chronically under-equipped for years, a situation that the new funding should remedy. But Germany has backtracked on its promises to finally meet its NATO target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

Scholz is under pressure to find a replacement before allied defense secretaries, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, arrive in the country for their meeting in Ramstein on Friday.

Ahead of the meeting, Germany has shown a softening of its position on sending tanks to Ukraine. Economics Minister Robert Habeck said last week that Berlin should not stand in the way of a Polish decision to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine. Since the tanks are made in Germany, they have to be sent to the battlefield from Berlin.

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

“The vehicles have to be completely dismantled and rebuilt,” CEO Armin Papperger told Bild on Sunday.

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