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Scholz tells Putin to withdraw as Germany faces calls to send Ukraine tanks

BERLIN — Olaf Scholz urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to completely withdraw his troops from Ukraine during a call Tuesday, as the German chancellor faces growing pressure at home to give more military aid to Kyiv.

A German government readout from the 90-minute call said that given “the seriousness of the military situation and the consequences of the war in Ukraine, the chancellor urged the Russian President to find a diplomatic solution as soon as possible, based on a ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.”

“The chancellor stressed that any further Russian annexation moves would not go unanswered and would not be recognized under any circumstances,” the readout added.

Scholz also appealed to the Russian leader to treat prisoners of war according to the Geneva Conventions on humanitarian standards; called for Russia to avoid any escalation in violence around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant; and urged Putin to implement rather than “discredit” the deal brokered by the U.N. and Turkey to resume Ukraine’s shipments of grain through the Black Sea.

A readout from the Kremlin, meanwhile, pointed the finger at Ukraine for continued violence and reiterated false claims about the Black Sea deal.

The call with Putin comes as Scholz continues to face criticism over his hesitance to increase military support for Kyiv.

Ukraine’s recent swift battlefield advances have led to fresh calls on Germany and other Western allies to send more weapons, particularly tanks, to bolster Kyiv’s efforts to reconquer territories in the south and east occupied by Russian forces.

Germany is the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter, producing the renowned Leopard battle tank, and its defense industry also possesses large stockpiles of decommissioned Marder infantry fighting vehicles. But so far Berlin has refused to deliver those vehicles to Ukraine.

Kyiv’s frustration over Germany’s restraint was on public display Tuesday. “Disappointing signals from Germany while Ukraine needs Leopards and Marders now — to liberate people and save them from genocide,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter. “Not a single rational argument on why these weapons can not be supplied, only abstract fears and excuses. What is Berlin afraid of that Kyiv is not?”

Kuleba’s public scorn for the EU’s largest economy stood in stark contrast to the praise he gave to Estonia, one of the smallest countries in the bloc, which he thanked for its “outstanding support.”

Germany has delivered lighter weapons like anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and grenades to Ukraine, and it has also supplied Kyiv with some heavier weapons, notably howitzers and anti-aircraft tanks. However, Scholz has repeatedly argued that he won’t deliver tanks as long as other allies are not sending similar Western tanks either, stressing that Berlin would not do any “solo runs.”

The U.S. embassy to Germany appeared to counter that argument in a rare, direct tweet on Tuesday, suggesting Berlin did not have to wait for its allies when it comes to weapon deliveries to Ukraine and could decide on its own.

“We call upon all allies and partners to support Ukraine in its fight for its democratic sovereignty as much as possible … The decision over the type of [military] aid ultimately lies with each country,” the embassy’s tweet said.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the chair of the German parliament’s defense committee and a staunch supporter of increasing military support for Ukraine, used the embassy’s tweet to make a fresh appeal to Scholz to ramp up weapons supplies.

“When it comes to the question of supplying tanks and heavy weapons to Ukraine, some sides like to point out defensively that we cannot go it alone without our partners. But our partners themselves are giving us the green light to finally go ahead ourselves,” said Strack-Zimmermann, whose liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) is a junior member of Scholz’s Social Democrat-led coalition.

Scholz is expected to face fresh pressure from both the FDP and the Greens, the third member of the coalition, during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday. While it currently appears unlikely that the chancellor will agree to send tanks to Ukraine, some of his coalition partners say he should at least send armored vehicles for the safe transport of soldiers, such as the German “Dingo” or “Fox.”

Germany’s main opposition party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union, is also piling pressure on the government to do more, announcing on Tuesday that it will submit a parliamentary motion next week urging Scholz to step up arms deliveries. Unless Scholz makes a move, such a motion could attract support from within his own coalition, which could in turn jeopardize the government’s majority in parliament and its stability.

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