BERLIN — After weeks of scrutiny for its less-than-firm diplomatic stance against Russia, the German government announced that it would send 5,000 combat helmets to help Ukraine defend itself in case of an attack by Moscow.
“It’s a clear signal: we are on your side,” Christine Lambrecht, Germany’s defense minister, said after a parliamentary meeting on Wednesday where she announced the donation.
It was not received as the beneficent gesture Ms. Lambrecht might have intended.
“The plan is obviously for 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers to run across the border and head-butt the Russian troops deployed there,” Marina Weisband, an author and former politician who was born in Ukraine, wrote on Twitter.
“Could you get any more embarrassing?” tweeted Ruprecht Polenz, a prominent member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party. “Will 5,000 helmets make a Russian invasion less likely?”
The German word for helmets — Helme — trended on Twitter after the announcement, a sign of the derision with which many viewed the donation. Critics saw it as another sign of the reticence the German government has shown regarding the growing crisis around Ukraine, where its reluctance to lead on security matters in Europe has led to a more accommodating stance toward Russia than the United States and other European powers.
Germany, like Europe at large, is dependent on Russia for natural gas. And some political leaders have warned against excluding Russian banks from the Swift payment transactions network, which handles global financial transfers, because it would harm Germany’s economic interests.
Germany has insisted that it will not deliver arms to Ukraine, in keeping with a longstanding policy of not supplying lethal weapons to potential conflict zones. It is also holding up a shipment of nine Communist-era howitzers from Estonia to Ukraine. The German government recently promised to send a field hospital to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, had mentioned in a newspaper interview that the country needed 100,000 helmets and antiballistic vests. But after Germany announced its helmet donation, Mr. Melnyk called it “a drop in the ocean.”
Perhaps the clearest rebuke came from Vitali Klitschko, a former boxing champion who is now mayor of Kyiv, the capital. Speaking to the German tabloid Bild, Mr. Klitschko said: “5,000 helmets is an absolute joke. What support are they going to send next? Pillows?”