The moves marked a seismic shift for a country that has been allergic to involvement in international conflict since World War II’s end. It came amid a range of other decisive European Union moves — on a day when 100,000 people turned out in Berlin to protest the invasion.
European leaders over the weekend embraced broad restrictions on Russian banks that some of its member states had previously rebuffed, closed E.U. skies to Russian aircraft, blocked some Russian media and announced that they would finance the purchase and delivery of weapons for Kyiv.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has “achieved something which many people have been trying to achieve for a long time — European unity, Western unity and an increased willingness to take action,” said Ian Kearns, a co-founder and former executive director of the European Leadership Network, who has long been active in efforts to create diplomatic channels between the West and Russia.
But the tectonic changes may come too late for Ukraine. “What has happened in the last few days has been a serious wake-up call for Europe, a serious wake-up call for the NATO alliance and, tragically and very sadly for Ukraine, a wake-up call too late in the day,” said Richard Dannatt, a retired general and former British army chief. “We should have seen what Vladimir Putin has been up to.”
But Germany won’t be sending troops to Ukraine, and neither will any other members of NATO, which have been wary of being drawn into a direct confrontation with nuclear weapons-armed Russia.
NATO’s stance on Ukraine has long, in essence, been that membership has its privileges: While the alliance may be willing to offer support — both lethal and nonlethal — it won’t get directly involved in sending troops to defend Ukraine from outside attack, as it would with any NATO member.
Russia’s invasion hasn’t changed that calculus — much to the frustration of Ukrainians who have been seeking NATO membership for years, including President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We were left by ourselves. Who is ready to go to war for us? Honestly, I don’t see anybody. Who is ready to give Ukraine guarantees of NATO membership?” asked Zelensky in a speech after Russia invaded.
But for the countries that are already NATO members, the German pivot on defense could have profound ripple effects in the long run.
Speaking in the German parliament on Sunday, Scholz called Russia’s attack on Ukraine “a turning point in the history of our continent” and said the German military will receive a one-off additional payment of over $110 billion — about twice the amount of Germany’s defense budget last year.
“Better and more modern equipment, more staff, that costs a lot of money,” Scholz told lawmakers in a special session.
Scholz committed to exceeding the NATO defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP “from now on, every year.” Last year Germany spent an estimated 1.53 percent of its annual economic output on defense, well below the 2 percent NATO target.
“We are not only striving for this goal because we have promised our friends and allies that we will increase our defense spending to 2 percent of our economic output by 2024, but we do this for ourselves, too, for our own safety,” Scholz said.
The plans will still need to be approved by lawmakers, but there appeared to be widespread support for them on Sunday.
“There has been an awakening, not just by the political class, but also by ordinary voters,” said Marcel Dirsus, a German political scientist and fellow at the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University.
A few hours after Scholz addressed the Bundestag, at least 100,000 people turned out in Berlin to protest the invasion. They stretched from the Victory Column to the Brandenburg Gate — where the Berlin Wall once divided East and West.
Ukrainian flags and colors were dominant, with others holding signs denouncing Putin and calling on NATO to enforce a no-fly zone. Many Germans welcomed the change in their government’s tone, but were disappointed it took so long.
“Olaf Scholz is two weeks too late with all these things,” said Henning Ramke, 31, from Berlin. “The government was always the last in Europe to stand behind Ukraine.”
During prior crises, including after the 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia, Germany had hesitated to swing more directly into confrontation with a country that helped defeat the Nazis. Germany’s deep economic relationship with Russia is decades old and, many critics say, has led to a foreign policy orthodoxy that long held back Europe from sharper criticism of the Kremlin.
In a sign of the deep historic ties between Germany and the former Soviet Union, anti-Russian protesters who rallied in Berlin on Sunday passed Soviet tanks that line the Soviet War Memorial in central Berlin.
One reason for Germany’s disappointing response, in the eyes of allies, has been the lack of public support until now. Polls have shown opposition to weapons deliveries or taking a harder line with Russia. Thorsten Weiss shared that view. Then Russia invaded, which he called “inconceivable.”
“It’s a difficult situation for Germany. I was opposed at first, but have since found it good and the only way to do something against what’s happening,” the 60-year-old Berliner said.
Germany’s lagging defense spending had long been defended across the German political spectrum, even as its international allies voiced discontent. Scholz’s Social Democratic Party was among core opponents of a major increase in spending.
The German army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Alfons Mais, said last week that “the army that I am allowed to lead, is more or less powerless” against Russia amid the current crisis. Defense associations have warned the German military is underfunded and lacks crucial equipment.
The first signs of a substantial break in tradition came on Saturday, when Germany announced that it would rush 1,000 antitank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles to Ukraine and embraced broad restrictions on Russian banks that it had previously rebuffed.
The move also opened up Europe’s weapons-packed armories to Ukraine, since Berlin retained a veto power over how German-manufactured armaments were used even after they were sold elsewhere.
“This is the last door being closed on the Kremlin,” said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who served as commander of the U.S. Army Europe during the Obama and Trump administrations.
“It is going to be a sea change because all of Europe is looking at this in a different way,” he said. “The E.U. has discovered its heart and spine.”
Hodges suggested that Europe’s attitude changed because of Putin’s “flat-out lying” about the invasion. Senior officials who “really wanted to believe that you could negotiate with them” have been “humiliated,” he said, “and they are very angry about it.”
Kearns said he believes the Russian attack on Ukraine will ultimately doom Putin as the Russian president becomes increasingly isolated both at home and abroad. But he cautioned that Europe cannot be complacent as Putin flails.
With NATO now in a de facto proxy war with Russia, Kearns said, risks of an inadvertent escalation are heightened, and make it even more essential for Russian and Western militaries to communicate with one another. Even as the West continues to intensify the pressure on Russia, he said, it will also need to help him “to navigate an off-ramp” from an invasion that appears to be foundering.
Michael Birnbaum in Washington and William Glucroft in Berlin contributed to this report.