Ukraine war: Germany is one of the largest arms suppliers to Ukraine. Is the Schützenhilfe free of charge?

Two Cheetah anti-aircraft tanks, two border protection vehicles, six mobile antenna carrier systems: the German government's delivery list for military support to Ukraine last week is clear.

Ukraine war: Germany is one of the largest arms suppliers to Ukraine. Is the Schützenhilfe free of charge?

Two Cheetah anti-aircraft tanks, two border protection vehicles, six mobile antenna carrier systems: the German government's delivery list for military support to Ukraine last week is clear. But the impression is deceptive. In fact, Germany has been one of Ukraine's largest arms suppliers since the beginning of Russia's war of aggression - only the US, UK and Poland have sent more equipment so far.

So far, the Federal Republic has spent far more than two billion euros on its support for the defenders - and the money tap is still open. For this year, too, Berlin is promising billions in Kiev. It needs that too.

According to the annual report by the Swedish peace research institute Sipri (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) released on Monday, Ukraine is now the third largest arms importer in the world (only Qatar and India are arming themselves more). "Before 2022, there were hardly any arms deliveries to Ukraine. They were at a very low level - especially considering their size and the fact that they have been at war since 2014," Sipri researcher Pieter Wezeman told the German press -Agency.

The times have changed. Germany is the fourth largest arms supplier to the world's third largest arms importer. But: Does Ukraine have to pay back the billions for ammunition, tanks and firearms in the end, or is solidarity ultimately "free"?

There are several ways German arms can get into Ukraine -- in most of them the federal government is footing the bill.

Delivery from Bundeswehr stocks

A government spokeswoman told ZDF Today in January that arms deliveries that come directly from the Bundeswehr's stocks are actually free of charge for Ukraine. One remembers, for example, the first delivery in January 2022, which was much ridiculed at the time, when Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht announced that she would send 5,000 helmets to the country that was acutely threatened by Russia.

What's there is there, that's the idea. Of course, the German armed forces also have to economize on their own supplies. Unsurprisingly, the Bundeswehr wants to see what goes to the Ukraine as a support aid to be increased again soon.

Direct order and financing via the "Upgrading Initiative"

Kiev can also order weapons directly from the German armaments industry – the federal government usually takes care of this bill. To this end, Ukraine can apply for funds from a specially set up aid fund.

The so-called "funds for the upgrading initiative" amounted to an impressive 2.2 billion euros this year and should "primarily benefit the support of Ukraine". According to the Federal Ministry of Defense, the pot is intended to "enable the local partner to take care of its own and regional security".

The federal government publishes a weekly updated list of all industrial deliveries financed from funds from the upgrading initiative. In the period from January 2022 to March 2023, this would correspond to a total value of around 2.6 billion euros. However, there is one restriction: The Ukraine cannot order from Rheinmetall, Thyssenkrupp and Co. without restrictions. Every weapon export abroad must be approved in advance by the Federal Security Council. For this reason, Leopard main battle tanks, among other things, were only on the wishlist for a long time in Ukraine, not on the shopping list.

If the federal government does not take on the financing of an order, but has agreed to the delivery in principle, Ukraine could theoretically also buy directly from German companies. So far, however, this is said to have been the exception rather than the rule. According to reports, Berlin has so far approved all Ukrainian applications for rehabilitation aid.

Funding from the EU

Another multi-billion dollar pot that is currently being used almost exclusively to arm Ukraine is the "European Peace Facility" (EFF).

Who throws how much into the pot is regulated by a distribution key. As the economically strongest EU member, Germany pays in the most. EU states that have delivered weapons to Ukraine are to be compensated in this way, so to speak. In theory, the Federal Republic could have its costs for the aid reimbursed.

Incidentally, this is the first time in the history of the EU that it has authorized the supply of lethal weapons to a third country.

Only in February did the Council of the European Union decide to further increase aid to Ukraine – to a total of 3.6 billion euros. The whole thing is financed by the EFF right from the start. In the end, the EU pays for the Ukraine aid as a community.


From their point of view, the Ukraine also receives free equipment via the much-described exchange of rings. The idea is that states send heavy weapons to Ukraine and Germany compensates them with more modern alternatives. For example, if Slovenia delivers tanks of Soviet design to the Ukraine, it can demand modern replacements from Germany. These replacement tanks do not come from Bundeswehr stocks, but from the German armaments industry. This, in turn, is paid for with funds from the training aid.

In summary, Ukraine does not have to pay for German weapons in the vast majority of cases. From a German perspective, however, the support should be worthwhile in the long term. Or to put it another way: inactivity may end up being far more expensive.

In addition, Germany is one of Ukraine's biggest supporters in absolute terms. Measured in terms of gross domestic product, however, many Eastern European neighbors are much more generous. Estonia, for example, spends more than one percent of its economic output on aid to Ukraine - more than any other ally.

Sources: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report; List of federal government military support services; Council of the European Union; Kiel Institute for the World Economy; ZDF; "Augsburger Allgemeine"; DPA