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Germany confirmed on Jan. 25 that it would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine after months of delay, and allow other countries, such as Poland, to send their own stocks.
The long-awaited tanks will be delivered from the stocks of Bundeswehr armed forces, Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Bloomberg in an emailed statement.
“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability,” Scholz said, as quoted by Bloomberg. “We are acting in a way that is closely agreed and coordinated internationally.”
Pressure had been mounting for Berlin to greenlight the transfer of the powerful Leopards after Poland and the U.K. promised to send the first batches of Western tanks to Ukraine, whose soldiers are braving Russia’s brutal assaults in the country’s east and south.
Germany, like other arms-manufacturing countries, requires its buyers to seek approval before exporting its German-made equipment to a third country.
For many months, Berlin resisted pressure from its Western allies over fears that the transfer of Leopards could lead to a direct confrontation with Russia, turning down Kyiv’s pleas for months.
"We support Ukraine as long as it is necessary, with all the means that we can use, but also always avoiding that this war is escalating" into a direct Russia-NATO conflict, Scholz had said during a Jan. 17 interview with Bloomberg.
Berlin repeatedly said that possible transfer of tanks would be organized in coordination with its allies, including the U.S.
Poland has been putting pressure on German officials in public, saying it would ask Germany for approval, but was ready to send Leopards to Ukraine regardless.
Poland’s disagreements with Germany over the Leopards came to a head in recent days with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Jan. 23 accusing Berlin of “wasting time” by delaying the decision.
Poland said it would create a “smaller coalition” of countries willing to send Leopards to Ukraine with Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak appealing on Jan. 24 to Berlin to join as well. Denmark and Finland said they would join “the Leopard coalition” to provide Ukraine with the tanks.
Twelve countries are ready to give about 100 Leopards to Ukraine, ABC reported on Jan. 24, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter. Among them are the Netherlands and Spain, ready to send some of their tanks, according to the American media.
Earlier in January, the U.K. said it would send 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country pledged to deliver AMX-10 RC wheeled tank destroyers often labeled “light tanks” to Ukraine, said on Jan. 22 that he does not rule out the possibility of providing Ukraine with locally-built Leclerc tanks.
On Jan. 25, Swedish Defense Minister said that he does not exclude the possibility of sending Swedish Stridsvagn 122 tanks to Ukraine once Germany greenlights its delivery of Leopards.
Berlin’s decision comes nearly a week after the latest meeting at the Ramstein Air Base, where defense leaders from some 50 countries met to discuss how to support Ukraine further and the possible transfer of Western-made tanks to Ukraine.
Despite the anticipation from Kyiv and its allies, Germany fell short of approving the transfer of the Leopards to Ukraine at the Ramstein meeting on Jan. 20. Newly-appointed German defense minister Boris Pistorius said that his country would make a decision soon, but he could say when or whether it would be in Kyiv’s favor.
A few days before Ramstein, Western media reports began to appear, citing unnamed German and U.S. officials, that Berlin would provide Ukraine with Leopards if Washington moved to send its Abram tanks.
Pistorius denied that Berlin’s decision relied on Washington, saying on Jan. 19 that he wasn’t “aware of such a package.”
Emerging media reports, including a Jan. 24 Wall Street Journal article, say that the U.S. is leaning toward sending “several dozen” M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
Washington, by far the largest contributor of military aid to Ukraine, has so far made no indication of sending Abrams tanks, citing potential logistical difficulties and the complexity of training and maintenance required of the equipment.
An army of Western-made tanks would be a game changer for Ukrainian forces, as Russia and Ukraine have relied on Soviet tanks thus far on the battlefield. For Ukraine, the possession of significant numbers of superior Western tanks and armored vehicles is expected to be crucial for the success of counteroffensive operations in 2023.
Along with other equipment, Ukraine needs 300 main battle tanks to conduct counteroffensive operations, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhny and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in December.
“Western states’ provision of main battle tanks to Ukraine will help enable Ukraine to conduct mechanized warfare to defeat the Russian military and liberate Ukrainian territory,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S. defense think-tank, said in its. Jan. 24 report.
Amid the deadly trench warfare on the Bakhmut front in the eastern Donetsk Oblast, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has urged allies on Jan. 23 to speed up the delivery of heavier and more advanced weapons to Ukraine “at this pivotal moment in the war.”
Late on Jan. 23, Head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office Andriy Yermak said a few hundred tanks for Ukrainian forces would help them further liberate territories, adding that his office was working on it with international partners.
"This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy against the autocracy from the bog," Yermak said in a Telegram post.
There are about 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks in Europe at varying levels of readiness, according to CNN.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Jan. 20 that a decision was reached at Ramstein for Ukrainian troops to begin training on Leopards in Poland to speed up the delivery process.
The German army has used Leopards for decades, and the heavy tanks have been previously deployed in other conflicts, including Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Syria.
Russia has warned Western nations against providing Ukraine with tanks, claiming that they would “regret” sending them.
On Jan. 25, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed at a news conference that the possibility of the U.S. supplying Abrams tanks to Ukraine was a “clear overestimation of the potential that this will add to the armed forces of Ukraine.”