After the German decision to supply Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz asked for the people's confidence. "Trust me, trust the federal government," he said on Wednesday in the Bundestag. The SPD politician also drew red lines for further military support for the country attacked by Russia: he ruled out the delivery of combat aircraft or the deployment of ground troops.
The German government had previously announced that it would initially support Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks in the war against the Russian attackers. Together with allies there should be a total of about 90 leopards.
In Germany and internationally, the decision to supply main battle tanks met with praise and criticism. The Russian embassy in Berlin reacted with sharp words.
According to Federal Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD), the first Leopard tanks to come from Bundeswehr stocks could be in Ukraine in about three months. The support package also includes training, logistics and ammunition. Germany wants to start training Ukrainian soldiers on the Leopard in just a few days.
Scholz said Germany was acting on the principle of making what is necessary possible while providing military support to Ukraine while avoiding an escalation into a Nato-Russia confrontation. "We will continue to observe this principle." He asked for the trust of citizens concerned about the decision: "Because we act in an internationally coordinated manner, we will continue to ensure that this support is possible without the risks for our country growing in the wrong direction."
"I made it clear very early on that it's not about combat aircraft and I'm doing the same here," said the SPD politician. He added: "Under no circumstances will we send ground troops." There will be no direct involvement of NATO soldiers. "That hasn't been the case so far and it won't be the case in the future either. And everyone can rely on that."
As a production country, Germany plays a key role in the supply of Leopard tanks. If other states want to pass this on, the federal government must approve it. Scholz has been under pressure since Tuesday because of an official export application from the Polish government. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki thanked Scholz for the decision on Wednesday.
Pistorius called the decision on Wednesday "historic" because it happened in a coordinated manner in a "highly explosive situation in Ukraine". But he also said: "That's no reason to celebrate", he had great understanding for those who were worried. "But one thing is clear, we won't become a party to the war, we will see to that."
Russia sees 'new level of confrontation'
The Russian embassy in Berlin called the German decision "extremely dangerous". Ambassador Sergei Nechayev was quoted as saying in a press release that they are raising the conflict to a new level of confrontation. The decision contradicts the announcements by German politicians that they do not want to be drawn into the conflict. According to Nechayev, German tanks would again be sent to the "Eastern Front", which would mean the death not only of Russian soldiers but also of the civilian population.
For months Ukraine has been demanding western-style main battle tanks to fight the Russian attackers. The front line in eastern Ukraine has hardly moved in weeks. With the main battle tanks, Ukraine now hopes to recapture more territory. At the same time, an offensive by Russia is feared for the spring.
It was expected that the US tank plans would also become more concrete on Wednesday. According to US media, the Americans want to provide Ukraine with around 30 M1 Abrams tanks. However, according to the Washington Post, it will likely be months, if not years, before the Abrams tanks see action in the war. It is unlikely that the vehicles will arrive in Ukraine in the spring, when the Russian offensive or a counter-offensive by Ukraine is expected.
Ukraine should assert itself as an independent nation
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Scholz and Germany for the promised delivery of battle tanks, as he wrote on Twitter after a phone call with Scholz.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter about the tank deliveries: "At a critical moment in the Russian war, they can help Ukraine to defend itself, win and assert itself as an independent nation." He welcomes the leadership of Chancellor Scholz and Germany.
The FDP and the Greens, Chancellor Scholz's coalition partners, who had pushed for a decision on the delivery, reacted with relief. CDU leader Friedrich Merz also welcomed the decision, but at the same time accused Scholz of hesitation. What remains is the image of someone driven who has hesitated for too long.
Left and AfD condemned the step against it. Scholz is dragging Germany further and further into the war, left-wing faction leader Amira Mohamed Ali tweeted on Wednesday. AfD co-head Alice Weidel described the provision of Leopard tanks for Ukraine as a "fatal decision".