Germany has confirmed it will send a long-requested contingent of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in a major sign of support for Kyiv that is expected to be matched by the United States.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement on Wednesday, coupled with an early decision by the United States to send around 30 M-1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, marks a historic moment that follows weeks of intense pressure on Berlin from some of its NATO allies.
Scholz informed his cabinet of his decision that Germany will further increase its military support for Ukraine, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said. “The federal government has decided to make Leopard 2 battle tanks available to the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” he said.
“It is the result of intensive consultations that have taken place with Germany’s closest European and international partners. This decision follows our well-known line of support from Ukraine to Ukraine to the best of our abilities. »
The announcement came a day after CNN reported that the Biden administration was finalizing plans to send US tanks to Ukraine, a move that appeared to break the diplomatic deadlock with Scholz’s government. German officials had openly stated that they would send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine only if the United States also sent Abrams tanks, although American officials had repeatedly pointed out that the Abrams tanks were too complex and difficult to maintain.
The dispute over whether the Germans would send Leopards to support Ukraine threatened to show some of the first cracks in the united Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Scholz’s announcement and the news that Washington is preparing its own shipment seems to show that the United States and its allies are still working together when it comes to supporting President Volodymyr Zelensky and his country’s fight against the Russians. .
The Germans’ goal is to assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, according to the government statement. Initially, Berlin will provide a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks, with the training of Ukrainian crews to begin quickly in Germany. In addition to training, the package will also include logistics, ammunition and systems maintenance.
The German Defense Minister said the Leopard tanks could be operational in Ukraine in about three months. Boris Pistorius, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said the training would come first and then the tanks would be sent east.
The German army has 320 Leopard 2 tanks in its possession but does not reveal how many would be combat-ready, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman previously told CNN.
Germany will also allow other countries to export the battle tank, he said. Poland formally requested Germany’s approval on Tuesday to transfer some of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Several European countries also have Leopards, and Poland had led an effort to re-export them to Ukraine even though Germany was not on board.
Addressing the German parliament after the announcement, Scholz said he spoke to Zelensky before coming to parliament.
During his speech, the German leader said that Germany, along with the United States and the United Kingdom, had sent the most weapons systems to Ukraine and insisted that his country would be at the forefront of support for Ukraine.
Sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine will provide Kyiv forces with a modern and powerful military vehicle ahead of a potential Russian offensive in the spring. It will also deal a blow to the Kremlin, which has seen a growing campaign to equip Ukrainian troops with high-tech combat systems as Russia’s ground war approaches a year.
Germany had initially resisted a growing pace of Western pressure to ship some of the tanks to Ukraine, with new German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius repeatedly calling for more time and insisting the move would come with advantages and disadvantages for Berlin.
The US decision to supply Abrams tanks to Ukraine represents a sharp reversal from its previous position.
While the Biden administration never considered the possibility of shipping American tanks entirely off the table, US officials said publicly last week that now was not the right time to send the M-1 tanks. 70 ton Abrams as they are expensive and require a significant amount of training to operate.
Tanks, instead, have been repeatedly touted as a long-term option – even as critics said now was the right time as Ukraine prepares for the possibility of Russia mobilizing more of troops and launched a new offensive. Zelensky has consistently asked his Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares for a major Russian counteroffensive expected in the spring.
The decision to send US-made Abrams tanks will be based on an “iterative process” assessing Ukraine’s needs, the aid that should be sent to the US, and the technical considerations surrounding operation and tank maintenance, said John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications. said Tuesday evening.
“We’ve talked about the Abrams being an incredibly capable system, but it’s a very expensive system to operate and maintain,” Kirby told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360.”
“It’s got a jet engine – that doesn’t mean Ukrainians can’t learn it, it just means we have to take all of that into account with any system that we’re going to potentially provide them with,” he added. . .
Sky News Arabia was first to report the news that the United States was planning to send the tanks.
The UK had set a precedent by supplying Ukraine with main battle tanks last week after pledging to send 14 of its British Army Challenger 2 tanks to Kyiv. The deal crossed what previously seemed like a red line for the United States and its European allies.
Ukrainian officials have constantly pleaded with their Western allies to provide modern battle tanks, to be used not only to defend their current positions, but also to carry out the fight against the enemy in the months to come. The Ukrainians fear that a second Russian offensive will begin within two months.
Although Ukraine has stockpiles of Soviet-era tanks, modern Western tanks offer a greater level of speed and agility. In particular, the Leopard’s relatively low maintenance requirements compared to other models lead experts to believe that the tanks could help Ukraine quickly on the battlefield.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed Germany’s decision as the “right decision” following Wednesday’s announcement.
“The right decision of Allies and Friends of NATO to send Main Battle Tanks to Ukraine. Alongside the Challenger 2s, they will bolster Ukraine’s defensive firepower. Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure that Ukraine wins this war and secures lasting peace,” Sunak wrote on Twitter.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Chief of Staff welcomed the news and reiterated that the country needs “a lot” of Leopard tanks. Writing on Telegram, Andriy Yermak said: “The first stage of the tank has been completed. The next step is the “tank coalition”. We need lots of Leopards.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki congratulated German Chancellor Scholz on his decision. “Thank you Olaf Scholz. The decision to send Leopards to Ukraine is a big step towards stopping Russia. Together we are stronger,” Morawiecki wrote on Twitter.