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Germany's defense minister resigns after missteps during her short term


Germany's defense minister resigned today after a series of missteps during her short term in office. She is the highest ranking member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government to resign. And her departure shines a spotlight on what many see as Germany's lackluster support of Ukraine in its fight against Russia. NPR's Rob Schmitz reports.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: For many observers, Christine Lambrecht was an odd choice for Germany's defense minister. She had previously led Germany's family ministry and justice ministry, but she had zero military experience. Two months after she was appointed defense minister, this lack of experience began to show.

CATHRYN CLUVER ASHBROOK: Moving into a high-profile spot, just as Germany's leadership, in terms of its military commitments and its political commitments to a democratic Ukraine, were going to be put under the prism of public scrutiny, was a difficult transition for her.

SCHMITZ: Cathryn Cluver Ashbrook is the executive vice president of the Bertelsmann Foundation, a think tank in Berlin. She says as defense minister, Lambrecht was in charge of overseeing a historic transformation of Germany's armed forces, after Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a 100-billion-euro boost in funding in the days following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It was a difficult job for anyone, especially Lambrecht.

CLUVER ASHBROOK: She was never quite able to wrap her mind, it seemed, around truly all the urgent reforms that a German defense ministry needed. She suffered from the inability of the Scholz Cabinet, and the Chancellor himself, to clearly map Germany's goal for its role in Ukraine.

SCHMITZ: Early on in her tenure, as Ukraine and NATO allies were calling on Germany to send heavy weaponry to Kyiv, Lambrecht instead announced that Germany's delivery of 5,000 helmets would show what she called a strong alignment with Ukrainian war objectives. She was skewered by the German press for that, and for many other foibles, including her last one, an amateur video address she posted to Instagram reflecting on the new year and the war in Ukraine.



SCHMITZ: Lambrecht was barely audible. She didn't mic herself, and she filmed the address as New Year's Eve revelers in Berlin were setting off fireworks behind her. The video was criticized for being tone deaf. Her own ministry distanced itself from it and calls for her resignation mounted. Lambrecht's resignation comes as Germany is under increasing pressure to send German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, something Chancellor Olaf Scholz has, up to now, refused to do. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.