German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has agreed to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 main battle tanks, according to media reports, following weeks of increasing pressure on Berlin to give Kiev the heavier weapons Ukraine says it needs to push back invading Russian forces. insist.
Berlin has also granted other countries, such as Poland and Finland, the license to re-export the German-made tanks to Ukraine, German media reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed government sources.
Countries that buy military weapons from Germany generally have to get permission from Berlin before they can export those weapons again to another country.
The Spiegel media outlet was the first to report the news, saying that Germany would supply at least one company with Leopard 2A6 tanks from stocks held by the German army, the Bundeswehr.
There was no immediate response from the German government.
Scholz had spent months resisting the growing chorus of people urging him to send the tanks to Kiev — not only Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but also NATO allies and members of Scholz’s coalition government.
Zelensky took a particularly tough stance, saying Berlin’s foot-dragging was costing Ukrainian lives.
Dominic Kane of Al Jazeera, reporting from Berlin, said the Leopard tanks could give the Ukrainian army advantages over Russian forces.
“The thing to remember here is that the real value that the Leopard 2 main battle tank has is that it is a heavier and faster tank than many of the tanks the Russian army has in Ukraine,” he said from Berlin.
“It is also true that many different countries of the European Union have certain forms of the Leopard 2 tanks. The principle here is clear: there are many in the EU, but also in European NATO countries,” he said.
Germany is one of Ukraine’s largest military donors. But there is skepticism about the value of sending tanks among a broad segment of the German public, concerned that it could draw Germany deeper into an escalating war in Eastern Europe.
Kane said that while the German government is willing to supply Ukraine with armored personnel carriers and its own form of anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense systems, there has been reluctance to send the Leopard 2 main battle tank, an assault weapon.
“Germany has the historical legacy since World War II that weighs on all the shoulders of German chancellors in that they don’t want to be seen in direct confrontation with the Russians,” he said.
Potential game changer
Ukraine has been calling for Western-designed main battle tanks for months to fight invading Russian forces. The front line in eastern Ukraine has barely moved for weeks. With the tanks, Ukraine hopes to reclaim more territory occupied by Russia.
After media reports emerged on Tuesday, officials in Kiev were quick to cheer what they said was a potential game-changer on the battlefield in a war that is 11 months old.
“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews – the best tank crews in the world. This will be a real fist of democracy against autocracy from the swamp,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskyy’s office, wrote on Telegram.
The German government plays a key role in the Leopard supply issue and has the power to decide which countries can purchase the German-built state-of-the-art tanks.
Scholz has argued that he needed to catch up with the United States, which has also not yet sent Ukraine its main battle tanks.
The Wall Street Journal and other US media reported on Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s administration was about to reverse course and send Ukraine its Abrams tanks.
A US government source told Al Jazeera that there would be an announcement on Wednesday at the White House about the delivery of tanks.
An official said the tanks would be purchased under an upcoming package from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides longer-term funding for weapons and equipment that can be purchased from commercial vendors. However, it can take months or years for the tanks to be delivered.
Analysts say Russia is preparing for a major spring offensive that will begin in Ukraine in March.
“The leopard is freed”
Friedrich Merz, the leader of Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), welcomed the move by the centre-left government.
“The decision is correct,” the CDU chairman told the DPA news agency.
Green Party lawmakers in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, also welcomed the decision.
“The Leopard is Freed!” This is what Vice President Katrin Göring-Eckardt of the Bundestag writes on Twitter.
“Now hopefully it can help Ukraine quickly in its fight against the Russian attack and for the freedom of Ukraine and Europe.”
Of the 14 European states that have Leopard tanks, only Finland and Poland have so far publicly stated their intention to supply them to Ukraine.
No Western-designed heavy tanks have been delivered to Ukraine for defensive combat against Russian attackers. However, the United Kingdom has pledged 14 Challenger tanks.
So far, Ukraine has only received Soviet-made tanks that were in the inventory of Eastern European NATO countries.
The number of Leopards Berlin sent to Ukraine was not immediately clear. However, Der Spiegel reported that the decision involved at least one company of Leopard 2A6 tanks, which is one of the latest versions. In general, equipping a company means transferring more than 14 tanks.