Brussels (AFP) – Germany announced on Sunday that it will allocate 100 billion euros ($113 billion) to a special fund for the armed forces and will keep its defense spending above 2% of GDP from now on. It was one of the most significant shifts in European security policy in decades, triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Schulz’s announcement, which came hours after Germany announced it would send weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine, underlined how Russia’s war in Ukraine reshaped Europe’s post-World War II security policy.
This came as Israel presented itself as a potential mediator to help broker an end to the fighting, given that it has good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, and with demonstrators taking to the streets in European capitals to demand an end to the war, the largest of the war. Land attack on the continent since World War II.
Among the tens of thousands of people who gathered in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to protest the invasion, some carried posters with slogans such as “Hands off Ukraine,” “Tanks to windmills,” and “Putin, go to treatment and leave Ukraine and the world in peace.”
In the Vatican, Ukrainian flags fluttered in Saint Peter’s Square as Pope Francis delivered his weekly blessing on Sunday.
Schulz’s announcement of new defense funding is significant for Germany, which has been criticized by the United States and other NATO allies for not investing enough in its defense budget. NATO member states have committed to spending 2% of their GDP on defense, but Germany consistently spends much less than that.
“It is clear that we need to invest significantly in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and our democracy,” Schulz said at a special session of the Bundestag in Berlin.
Schulz said the €100 billion fund is a one-time action for now for 2022. It was not immediately clear if similar funding would be allocated in the coming years. But Schulz noted that Germany will cross the 2% of GDP threshold in the future, indicating an overall future increase in defense spending.
The shift in German policy came as Italy, Austria and Belgium joined other European countries in closing their airspace to Russian planes, and Israel announced it would send 100 tons of humanitarian aid — medical equipment, medicine, tents, sleeping bags and blankets — to help civilians. Caught in the fighting in Ukraine.
The Kremlin and Israel said Israel also presented itself as a potential mediator during a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin. A senior Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential diplomatic issue, said Bennett told Putin that Israel was ready to provide assistance as much as is needed, and at any time, in order to help resolve the crisis and bring the parties closer. .
On the European front, European Union interior and foreign ministers held emergency talks Sunday to respond to the crisis.
Interior ministers have been discussing how to deal with the influx of refugees from Ukraine, as well as managing security challenges at the European Union’s border with Ukraine and humanitarian aid for the country. On Sunday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said more than 365,000 people have fled the country and estimates that 4 million would have fled if the fighting spread.
Later on Sunday, EU foreign ministers will meet via video conference to discuss sending more military aid to Ukraine.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy coordinator, said he would urge ministers to approve an “emergency aid package for the Ukrainian armed forces, to support them in their heroic fight”.
To advance military training and support missions around the world, the 27-nation bloc established a European Peace Facility; The fund has a ceiling of about 5.7 billion euros ($6.4 billion). Some of the funds can be used to train and equip partner nations, including lethal weapons.
The meeting comes a day after Germany announced a major shift in its policy of sending weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine. Among them, 500 “Stinger” missiles are used to shoot down helicopters and warplanes, and 1,000 anti-tank weapons.
Supplying Ukraine with weapons purchased with EU money would be unprecedented.
Borrell says EU ministers will also consider “more measures to support Ukraine and against Russia’s aggression”. The meeting is informal, so no binding decisions can be made about support or new sanctions but their recommendations can be enacted in the coming days.
The meeting came after the United States and European countries agreed on Saturday to impose the most complex financial sanctions yet on Russia by going after central bank reserves that support the Russian economy and disconnecting some Russian banks from the global financial network SWIFT.
Meanwhile, Catholic and Orthodox religious leaders Sunday prayed for peace, expressed solidarity with Ukrainians, and denounced the Russian invasion.
“Those who wage war forget humanity,” Pope Francis said during a Sunday noon blessing in St Peter’s Square, as a raft of blue and yellow Ukrainian flags fluttered below. This mentality, he said, “relies on the logic of perverted satanic weapons, which is far from God’s will.”
Francis refrained from naming Russia, in apparent respect for his hopes to keep dialogue open with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Earlier on Sunday, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople called the Russian invasion “beyond all sense of law and morals” and called for an end to the war.
Patriarch Bartholomew is considered the spiritual leader and first among Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide. He granted independence to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which in 2019 cut it off from the Russian Church with which it had been associated since 1686. As a result, the Russian Orthodox Church severed ties with him.
Schulthes contributed from Vienna, Austria. Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.
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