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Germany bitterly divided over heavy arms deliveries to Ukraine.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz has insisted Berlin will help Ukraine “defend itself” and dismissed criticism of arms deliveries to Kyiv as “cynical”.

His policy shift last week to provide heavy arms to Ukraine in its war with Russia has divided German public opinion, with loud and emotional arguments offered for and against further heavy arms deliveries.

Leading the critical camp is feminist campaigner Alice Schwarzer who, in an open letter co-signed by 27 other German actors, artists and intellectuals, urged the Scholz administration to do “everything it can to reach a ceasefire” in Ukraine and “a compromise that both sides can accept”.

“The delivery of large quantities of heavy weapons could make Germany itself a party to the war, and a Russian counterattack could then trigger the case for assistance under the Nato treaty and with it the immediate danger of a world war,” they added.

The pacifist letter has been co-signed by 163,000 people online.

One added his name “because finally someone has the courage to oppose the arms shipments. Everything must be done to end the conflict peacefully!”

Another wrote: “Let’s break free from the yoke of the USA, the aggressive politics of Nato and let’s start being a self-determined nation, which should never cross this red line again!”

German philosopher Jürgen Habermas has joined the debate, criticising the “self-certainty ... of the morally outraged” critics of Berlin’s restraint on arms deliveries.

“The consequence of the nuclear threat is that the threatened side ... cannot end the intolerable destruction caused by the use of military force through victory, but at best with a compromise that saves face for both sides,” he wrote in the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The more arms Nato member states such as Germany supply Ukraine, he warned, the more room for Russian president Vladimir Putin to decide whether Berlin is now a party to the war.

“The vagueness of this decision leaves no room for risky gambles, given the risk of a world conflagration, which must be avoided at all costs,” he added.

‘Rape’ analogy

The open letter and the intervention by Prof Habermas have prompted a robust response.

Spiegel Online suggested that Russia’s war against Ukraine was “the state equivalent of being raped by your ex-husband and threatened with death if you fight back”.

“It’s remarkable that a feminist like Alice Schwarzer of all people recommends not helping too much, so as not to give the violent perpetrator a pretext for a third world war,” the publication argued. “Branding the rape victim as jointly responsible for an impending mass murder through provocative resistance is remarkable – considering there are a significant number of actual rapes in this war.”

The magazine Focus attacked the letter’s arguments as “naive” and “as far from reality as President Putin from the Nobel Peace Prize”.

Chancellor Scholz was equally dismissive, saying “it must come across as cynical to people in Ukraine when they are told they should defend themselves against Putin’s aggression without weapons”.

At a weekend appearance in the northern city of Lübeck, Green Party foreign minister Annalena Baerbock – a backer of heavy arms for Ukraine – was greeted with catcalls, boos and shouts of “warmonger”.

Her party, which emerged from Germany’s ecological and peace movements four decades ago, has been critical of Berlin’s previous restraint towards arms exports.

“What choice do we have?” asked Peter Heilrath, a Green member from Munich at a weekend party conference. “We have no choice but to support people in Ukraine who are fighting for us ... for the democratic order and the rule of law.”

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