Germany’s new defence minister: Boris Pistorius’s first battle set to involve delivery of tanks

Scholz’s latest appointee likely to be under pressure to supply German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has appointed Boris Pistorius, a close Social Democrat (SDP) ally, to take over as Germany’s defence minister after the resignation of his first choice.

Christine Lambrecht’s departure on Monday, after a gaffe-filed year in office, saw hurried shortlists drafted – but none contained Mr Pistorius, the 62-year-old law-and-order interior minister in the sprawling western state of Lower Saxony.

Mr Scholz is under political pressure to recover quickly from the Lambrecht fiasco and, on Tuesday, the chancellor insisted that Mr Pistorius was an ideal choice for the role.

“Pistorius is an extremely experienced politician who has administrative experience, has been involved in security policy for years,” said Mr Scholz. “With competence, assertiveness and big heart, he is exactly the right person to lead the Bundeswehr [armed forces] through this era of change.”


The appointment ends a three-minister run of women in the defence role and shatters the Scholz coalition’s gender parity rule.

In a statement before he is formally appointed on Thursday, Mr Pistorius said he was aware of the “importance of the task” and that the armed forces could rely on him. “It is important to me to involve the soldiers closely and to take them along with me,” he said.

A lawyer by training, the new minister has no experience in the field beyond his compulsory military service in the 1980s but is a member of the Nato parliamentary assembly.

A former mayor of the western city of Osnabrück, he has prioritised close ties with police – from law-and-order issues to recruitment – and is known as a political plain-speaker with a profile far beyond Lower Saxony.

He will need his wits about him this week: US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin visits Berlin on Thursday before a Nato conference to discuss military support for Ukraine a day later.

At that gathering, to be held in the US military base in Ramstein, Mr Pistorius will come under pressure to deliver German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. In the last year, Berlin has supplied Kyiv with guns and ammunition as well as rockets, rocket-launchers and anti-aircraft systems – but is wary of supplying heavy arms directly for fear of escalating the war.

With pressure building on Berlin to do even more, the UK has plans to supply 14 Challenger 2 battle tanks while Poland and Finland are seeking permission from Berlin to export their own Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

A year after the Russian invasion prompted Berlin to agree a €100 billion special defence investment fund, Mr Pistorius will come under pressure to spell out when exactly Germany’s long-neglected armed forces can expect new vehicles and equipment.

Among the many hurdles are a cumbersome procurement process, where tests and clearance can take years, while waiting lists are growing with arms companies for everything from aircraft to submarines.

All this has made it unlikely that the Scholz administration can anytime soon meet its commitment to spend 2 per cent of German gross domestic product on defence.

A widowed father of three, Mr Pistorius was in a relationship until recently with Doris Schröder-Kopf, ex-wife of Gerhard Schröder, the disgraced former chancellor and lobbyist for Russian energy firms.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin