'What will they send next? Pillows?': Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko hits back at Berlin over helmets

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Vitali Klitschko seen dressed in army combat uniform in a video clip posted on his Instagram feed in October 2021. Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/CU_9Mq8AXP1/ - Instagram
Vitali Klitschko seen dressed in army combat uniform in a video clip posted on his Instagram feed in October 2021. Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/CU_9Mq8AXP1/ - Instagram

Vitali Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxer turned mayor of Kyiv, dismissed German military support to Ukraine as a “joke” on Wednesday.

Speaking after Berlin said it was sending 5,000 helmets to Ukraine, Mr Klitschko said: “What will they send next? Pillows?"

Germany has ruled out sending weapons but announced it will send helmets and a field hospital instead.

"I received a letter from the Ukrainian embassy, requesting support with military equipment, helmets to be precise," said Christine Lambrecht, the German defence minister. "We will supply Ukraine with 5,000 helmets as a clear signal: we are at your side.

"This is equipment, not weapons, but it helps. This is exactly how we will continue to work in this conflict."

But critics said the move would only serve to fuel Ukrainian anger.

"In sending 5000 helmets to Ukraine the government only worsens its own and Germany's position. It’s embarrassing that the government believes the scope of this crisis could be expressed in helmets," said Norbert Röttgen of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU).

Germany accused of hypocrisy

The row came as Germany was accused of hypocrisy over its refusal to allow weapons exports to Ukraine while making billions from arms sales to the Middle East.

Olaf Scholz’s government claims it is following a longstanding policy of not sending arms to conflict zones.

But Germany has approved arms sales with billions to countries involved in the conflicts in Yemen and Libya in recent years.

Last year alone, it granted export licenses for arms sales worth €4.3bn (£3.6bn) to Egypt.

Egypt is heavily involved in the civil war in neighbouring Libya, where it has deployed ground troops and carried out air strikes.

Bodies of victims of air strikes on a detention center lie on a street ahead of their burial in Saada, Yemen January 25, 2022. REUTERS/Naif Rahma - NAIF RAHMA /REUTERS
Bodies of victims of air strikes on a detention center lie on a street ahead of their burial in Saada, Yemen January 25, 2022. REUTERS/Naif Rahma - NAIF RAHMA /REUTERS

It is also a member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war.

Yet it was the single biggest customer in government-approved German arms sales last year.

“Germany sells arms to Egypt, which is involved in conflicts with Yemen and Libya , but does not want to supply arms to Ukraine. That's hypocrisy,” said Lt-Gen Ben Hodges, a former US army commander in Europe.

Under Angela Merkel, Germany vetoed the US and Lithuania delivering arms ordered through Nato to Ukraine.

Yet in her final weeks in office, Mrs Merkel’s government approved exports of warships and air defence systems worth more than €5bn (£4bn) to Egypt.

In 2020, Germany approved sales worth €305m (£255m) to Qatar and €23m (£19m) to Turkey, both of which are involved in the Libyan civil war.

The same year it approved sales worth €51m (£43m) to the United Arab Emirates and €23m (£19m) to Kuwait, both of which are members of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The new German government under Olaf Scholz has pledged to introduce new laws to limit arms exports.

But while it has yet to introduce new legislation, it is currently blocking Nato partner Estonia from sending howizters to Ukraine.

Berlin has a veto on any transfer of the weapons under the conditions of their original export from Germany.

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