Germany confirmed it will send a long-requested contingent of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as a major sign of support for Kiev, which is expected to be matched by the United States.
The announcement by Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday, coupled with an expected US decision to send about 30 M-1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, marks a milestone after weeks of intense pressure on Berlin from some of its NATO allies.
Scholz told his cabinet about his decision that Germany will further strengthen its military support to Ukraine, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said. “The federal government has decided to make Leopard 2 main battle tanks available to the Ukrainian armed forces,” he said.
“This is the result of intensive consultations that took place with Germany’s closest European and international partners. This decision follows our known line of support to Ukraine to the best of our ability.”
The announcement came a day after CNN reported that the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send US tanks to Ukraine, a move that appeared to break the diplomatic deadlock with the Scholz administration. German officials had openly stated that they would only send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if the US also sent Abrams tanks, despite US officials repeatedly stressing that the Abrams tanks are 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 mission seems to show that the US and its allies are still working closely together when it comes to supporting President Volodymyr Zelensky and his country’s fight against the Russians.
The aim of the Germans is to assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, the government statement said. As a first step, Berlin will provide a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks with the training of the Ukrainian crews to start in Germany quickly. In addition to training, the package also includes logistics, ammunition and maintenance of the systems.
Germany’s defense minister said the Leopard tanks could be operational in Ukraine in about three months. Boris Pistorius, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said training would come first, then the tanks would be sent east.
The German military owns 320 Leopard 2 tanks, but is not disclosing how many are combat-ready, a spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry previously told CNN.
Germany will also allow other countries to export the main battle tank, it said. Poland on Tuesday formally requested permission from Germany to transfer some of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Several European countries also have some leopards, and Poland had made an effort to re-export them to Ukraine, even if Germany was not on board.
Scholz addressed the German parliament after the announcement, saying he spoke with Zelensky before coming to parliament.
During his speech, the German leader said that Germany, along with the US and UK, had sent most of the weapons systems to Ukraine and insisted that his country be at the forefront of support for Ukraine.
Sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine will provide Kiev’s armed forces with a modern and powerful military vehicle ahead of a possible Russian spring offensive. It will also be 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 drags on for nearly a year.
Germany had initially resisted a growing drum of Western pressure to ship some tanks to Ukraine, with new German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius repeatedly calling for more time and insisting that the move would have advantages and disadvantages for Berlin.
The US decision to supply Ukraine with Abrams tanks represents an abrupt U-turn from the previously stated position.
While the Biden administration never completely brushed off the possibility of shipping US tanks, US officials said publicly last week that it was not the right time to send the 70-ton M-1 Abrams tanks because they are costly and a significant amount of training to work.
Instead, the tanks were repeatedly launched as a long-term option — even though critics said it was the right time as Ukraine braces for the possibility of Russia mobilizing more troops and launching a new offensive. Zelensky has consistently asked Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares for an expected major Russian counter-offensive in the spring.
The decision to send US-made Abrams tanks will depend on an “iterative process” assessing Ukraine’s needs, what assistance the US needs to send and technical considerations surrounding the operation and maintenance of the tanks John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, said Tuesday evening.
“We’ve talked about the fact that the Abrams are an incredibly capable system, but it’s a very expensive system to operate and maintain,” Kirby told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360.”
“It has a jet engine – it doesn’t mean the Ukrainians can’t learn it, it just means we have to bring all those things into any system we might be supplying to them,” he added. .
Sky News Arabia was the first to break the news that the US was considering sending the tanks.
The UK had set the precedent last week by supplying Ukraine with main battle tanks after promising to send 14 of its British Army Challenger 2 tanks to Kiev. The agreement crossed what previously appeared to be a red line for the US and its European allies.
Ukrainian officials have consistently pleaded with their Western allies to provide modern main battle tanks – not only to defend their current positions, but also to fight the enemy in the coming months. Ukrainians fear that a second Russian offensive could begin within two months.
While Ukraine has stockpiles of Soviet-era tanks, modern Western tanks offer greater 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 move as the “right decision” in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement.
“The right decision by NATO allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. In addition to Challenger 2s, they will bolster Ukraine’s defensive firepower. Together we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace,” Sunak wrote on Twitter.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff welcomed the news, reiterating that the country needed “a lot” of Leopard tanks. Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram: “The first refueling step has been taken. Next is the “tank coalition.” We need a lot of leopards.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki praised German Chancellor Scholz for his decision. “Thanks Olaf Scholz. The decision to send leopards to Ukraine is a big step towards stopping Russia. Together we are stronger,” Morawiecki wrote on Twitter.