New German Defence Minister says he will strengthen army, help Ukraine

New German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius receives his certificate of appointment from German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, during a ceremony at Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2023. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's new defence minister said on Thursday it was his task to strengthen the armed forces so that they could do their job at a time of conflict in Europe with Russia waging war against Ukraine.

Boris Pistorius was officially made minister on Thursday at a time when Germany is under pressure from Western allies to allow German-made battle tanks to be used in Ukraine to strengthen its defence against the Russian invasion.

Pistorius, a Social Democrat, is due to meet his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin later on Thursday, and on Friday defence leaders from about 50 countries and NATO gather at Germany's Ramstein Air Base to discuss how to supply Kyiv with more weapons.

"These are not normal times, we have a war raging in Europe. Russia is waging a brutal war of annihilation on a sovereign country, on Ukraine," Pistorius said after a ceremony with military honours at the defence ministry.

"Our task is to make the Bundeswehr (armed forces) strong now, it is about deterrence, effectiveness and readiness. And it is about continuing to support Ukraine, also with material of the Bundeswehr," he said.

A German government source has told Reuters that Berlin will only allow German-made tanks to be sent to Ukraine if the United States agrees to send its own tanks.

Pistorius also said it was a huge task to revamp Germany's armed forces, as announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last February, saying they had been neglected over the last few decades.

"It will be my job to make tangible progress," he said.

Earlier, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier promised further military support to Ukraine and told the incoming defence minister that Germany's armed forces must once again become capable of protecting the nation.

"Germany is not at war, but the years of the peace dividend from which we Germans have benefited so long and abundantly are over," Steinmeier said.

Pistorius takes over from Christine Lambrecht, who after a series of blunders, announced her resignation on Monday.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Madeline Chambers, editing by Rachel More and Angus MacSwan)

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