German legislators approve €843m defence order; Wagner chief blasts outcomes of Putin’s war goals

German legislators approve €843m defence order; Wagner chief blasts outcomes of Putin’s war goals
An armoured fighting vehicle during a meeting with the media of members of the Russian Volunteer Corps and Freedom of Russia Legion, not far from the Ukraine-Russia border in the Kharkiv area, northeastern Ukraine, on 24 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Kozlov)

German legislators approved the purchase of 18 battle tanks and 12 self-propelled howitzers from domestic manufacturers Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann as part of an order worth €843m to replace equipment sent to Ukraine.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, criticised the outcome of President Vladimir Putin’s war goals and accused defence officials of leaving Russia unprotected after an incursion by attackers who crossed from Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin told China’s premier, Li Qiang, that bilateral relations are stronger than ever, as Moscow looks to Beijing to help it withstand the economic pressure of US-led sanctions. Chinese President Xi Jinping also vowed to push cooperation with Russia to higher levels during a meeting with Mishustin.

Latest developments

Germany’s €843m arms deal

German legislators gave the green light to buy 18 battle tanks and 12 self-propelled howitzers from domestic manufacturers Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann as part of an order worth €843-million to replace equipment sent to Ukraine.

The purchase, which also includes spare parts and services, was approved by the budget committee in the lower House of Parliament on Wednesday, according to participants in the meeting.

The Defence Ministry has suggested the order of the next-generation Leopard 2-A8 battle tanks are to replace the Leopard 2-A6 tanks that Berlin sent to Ukraine earlier this year. Bloomberg first reported on the order on Tuesday.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government will pay €525.6-million for the Leopard 2 tanks and €190.7-million for PzH 2000 howitzers, according to Defence Ministry documents. The supply of spare parts for the Leopards is worth €126.6-million. The first tanks will be delivered in 2026 at the latest.

The agreement with the companies includes the option to purchase as many as 105 additional Leopard tanks in a deal worth as much as €2.9-billion.

The Defence Ministry said in a statement that the Czech Republic voiced interest in joining the Leopard 2-A8 procurement.

Minister Boris Pistorius called the Czech entry a “major step” toward implementing a modern European defence architecture triggered by Russia’s war.

Germany hopes economies of scale can be achieved through larger purchase quantities. Joint procurement also provides planning security for the industry, which can expand production capacities on a more calculable basis, while buying almost identical weapons systems can unleash synergy effects in training and logistics.

A spokesperson for Krauss-Maffei Wegmann declined to comment.

Scholz has abandoned a policy against sending lethal weapons into combat zones in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The government in Berlin delivered 18 Leopard tanks at the beginning of this year, while the rapid-fire PzH 2000 was among the first heavy weapons handed over to Kyiv last year.

Shortly after the invasion last February, Germany set aside €100-billion to upgrade its military in a special fund outside its normal budget. But since this is a replacement order, the funds will be part of regular spending.




Wagner chief blasts outcome of Putin’s war goals 

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, criticised the outcome of President Vladimir Putin’s war goals and accused defence officials of leaving Russia unprotected after an incursion by attackers who crossed from Ukraine.

Following that assault, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said a “large number” of drone attacks damaged buildings overnight, though most of the craft were intercepted. More than 550 people remained in temporary accommodation in the wake of the incursion earlier this week, Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

Prigozhin heaped praise on the performance of Ukraine’s military and scorned the “denazification and demilitarisation” goals that Putin and top Kremlin officials used as justification for the war. He renewed a feud with Russia’s top defence officials, accusing them of leaving the country unprotected following a border incursion by attackers who crossed from Ukraine.

“The denazification we’re talking about legitimised Ukraine, it led to Ukraine being a nation known all over the world,” Prigozhin said, during a more than hour-long interview posted on his Telegram channel Wednesday. “How did we demilitarise it? We actually militarised it. It’s now one of the strongest armies.”

Prigozhin, whose forces claimed to have taken the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut at the weekend after months of intense fighting, has helped advance the Kremlin’s interests from the Middle East to Africa and Latin America. He’s grown increasingly outspoken about Russia’s military performance as Ukraine readies a counteroffensive aimed at driving Moscow’s forces out of the east and south of the country.

Read more: US says Russia’s Wagner group moving weapons to Ukraine via Mali

Until now, though, the mercenary chief had steered clear of questioning the Russian president’s overall strategy. His latest comments appeared to take a different tack.

“Somehow we don’t get anything right,” Prigozhin said, listing a series of Russian reverses since the army failed to seize Kyiv early in the February 2022 invasion. While Soviet dictator Josef Stalin would have executed 200 people for the military’s performance, “we haven’t drawn any conclusions so far”, he said.

Prigozhin’s criticisms are a sign of tensions within Russia between the Defence Ministry and the Federal Security Service over who is to blame for the failure to win the war so far, according to Kirill Rogov, director of Re: Russia, a Vienna-based think tank.

The Russian assault bolstered Ukraine’s global standing and transformed its military into a far more powerful force with help from billions of dollars in US and European weapon supplies, Prigozhin said. If, theoretically, “they had 20,000 people who knew how to fight, now they have 400,000”, he said, adding that Ukraine’s military had high levels of organisation, training and intelligence services.

In response, Prigozhin said, Russia should declare martial law, implement a new wave of mobilisation to draft more troops, and focus the country’s entire resources on fighting the war.

Pointing to the attack in Russia’s Belgorod region bordering Ukraine that began on Monday, Prigozhin accused the military of weak defences.

“They easily crossed the border, they could be in Moscow tomorrow,” he said.

Bank of Russia chief visits Iran in rare trip abroad since war 

Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina held talks with her Iranian counterpart during a visit to Tehran, a rare foreign outing since she was sanctioned over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The discussions included a focus on strengthening relations between commercial banks from the two countries as well as “increasing banking infrastructure cooperation,” the state-run Irna news service reported Iranian central bank Governor Mohammad-Reza Farzin as saying.

Nabiullina also held talks on the sidelines of an Asian Clearing Union meeting in Tehran, which Russia is attending as an observer along with officials from Belarus and Afghanistan, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news service reported on Wednesday. Iranian First Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber told her that Iran was determined to sideline the dollar in transactions with Russia, it said.

Nabiullina, who wore a headscarf at the meetings, is the second high-ranking Russian to go to Tehran this month following the visit last week of Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, President Vladimir Putin’s top energy official. Feted as one of the world’s best monetary policymakers before the February 2022 invasion, she is now shunned by counterparts in the US and Europe as she has worked to stabilise the rouble and manage the economic fallout from unprecedented international sanctions on Russia.

Governments have frozen some $300-billion of the Bank of Russia’s foreign reserves, while the US, Canada and the UK have sanctioned Nabiullina. As decades of Russian integration into the global financial system unravelled following the invasion, she sought to resign as governor only for Putin to reject the request and nominate her to a new five-year term.




France’s Le Pen rejects accusations she was influenced by Putin 

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen said no foreign power has ever tried to influence her as she sought to shake off accusations that her party’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had influenced her policies.

She also criticised previous governments in Paris for increasing economic reliance on Russia, including through energy company Engie’s participation in the construction of the controversial Nord Stream gas pipeline linking the country directly with Germany,

“I have never been the victim of any attempt to influence me, not even once,” she said at a parliamentary hearing on foreign political interference on Wednesday.

The investigating committee was set up by Le Pen’s National Rally party in an effort to confront long-standing criticism over its ties to Russia that resurfaced after the invasion of Ukraine, just weeks before last year’s French presidential election. It’s spearheaded by one of her most prominent lieutenants, Jean-Philippe Tanguy.

The party has been battling accusations of financial links to the Kremlin since it took out a loan worth about €9.5-million from First Czech Russian Bank in 2014 that was taken over by Moscow-based aeronautics firm Aviazapchast in 2016. Le Pen said French banks at the time didn’t want to do business with her party, then called the National Front, due to concerns over damage to their brands.

“I signed a loan with a bank, not with Vladimir Putin, otherwise you’ve all signed a loan with Macron,” she told legislators in a reference to the French president. DM


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