After weeks of discussions, a larger alliance to support Ukraine with Western-style main battle tanks is emerging. As the German Press Agency learned from coalition circles, Germany wants to deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and also allow other countries such as Poland or Finland to do so. According to reports from several US media, the USA want to provide their Abrams tanks. The New York Times reports that 30 to 50 copies are under discussion. The UK has already committed 14 of their Challenger tanks.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been criticized for weeks on the issue of Leopard deliveries - he is accused of being too hesitant. The government justified its actions, among other things, with the risk of escalation and the necessary international coordination. As a production country, Germany plays a key role in the issue of Leopard delivery. If armaments are sold to other countries, end-use clauses are always built into the contracts. This stipulates that the federal government must agree to the transfer to third countries.
For months Ukraine has been demanding western-style main battle tanks to fight the Russian attackers. The first official request to the federal government came just a week after the start of the war at the beginning of March last year. The front line in eastern Ukraine has hardly moved in weeks. With the battle tanks, Ukraine is now hoping to get back on the offensive and recapture more territory. At the same time, an offensive by Russia is feared for the spring.
The tank plans of the USA and Germany are expected to become more concrete on Wednesday. According to "Spiegel", the federal government wants to equip at least one company with the Leopard 2A6 version from Bundeswehr stocks. This would require 14 of the weapon systems. The Chancellery initially did not comment on the reports.
The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj also reacted cautiously. "A lot of effort, words, promises," he said in a video address Tuesday night. The discussions about the delivery of tanks must now lead to decisions, Zelenskyj demanded. "Decisions that really strengthen our defense against the (Russian) terrorists."
On the other hand, the Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk was downright euphoric. Even if the German decision was delayed, it was "without a doubt a real breakthrough and a game changer for Ukraine on the battlefield," he told dpa. "This will go down in history." The fact that Scholz apparently even helped convince the USA to deliver their M1 Abrams tanks is even "a double tank boom," said Melnyk. Now it is necessary for Germany to forge "a powerful tank alliance".
There was also relief from Chancellor Scholz's coalition partners, the FDP and the Greens, who had pushed for a decision in favor of the tank delivery. The chairwoman of the defense committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), told the dpa: "The decision was tough, it took far too long, but it is inevitable in the end. That Germany releases the delivery of its Leopard 2 tank to partner countries and also delivers himself is a message of salvation for the battered and brave Ukrainian people."
Bundestag Vice President Katrin Göring-Eckardt tweeted in English: "The leopard is freed!" She wrote: "Now hopefully he can quickly help Ukraine in its fight against the Russian attack and for the freedom of Ukraine and Europe." Union faction leader Friedrich Merz also welcomed the decision, but at the same time accused Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) of hesitation. "So the image of a driven person who has hesitated for too long remains," he told the dpa.
The AfD in the Bundestag, on the other hand, described the decision as "irresponsible and dangerous". Faction leader Tino Chrupalla explained: "Germany is in danger of being drawn directly into the war. Our armed forces are being further plundered by the delivery of tanks from Bundeswehr stocks." Left faction leader Dietmar Bartsch also criticized the decision. "The delivery of Leopard main battle tanks, which lifts another taboo, potentially takes us closer to World War III than towards peace in Europe," he told dpa.
Scholz has been under pressure since Tuesday because of an official export application from the Polish government. Poland has been putting pressure on Germany for a long time in the discussion about the supply of main battle tanks. The week before last, President Andrzej Duda announced that Ukraine would be given 14 Leopard main battle tanks.
Of the 14 European countries that have Leopard tanks, Poland and Finland were the only ones that had publicly signaled their willingness to hand over some specimens. On Tuesday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was also open to making 18 Leopard 2 tanks leased from Germany available to Ukraine. "We leased them, which means we can buy them, which means we can donate them," he told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and some other international media in Brussels.
The Czech Republic announced on Tuesday that it did not want to give up the Leopard 2 main battle tanks in favor of Ukraine, which Germany had promised in the course of a ring exchange. "It is now not possible to send the Leopards on because we need these tanks for our security," Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala told dpa after a meeting with Scholz in Berlin.
The Czech Republic made dozens of Soviet-designed T-72 main battle tanks available to Ukraine last year. The federal government promised the government in Prague 14 Leopard 2 tanks and one armored recovery vehicle as part of the so-called ring exchange. The first Leopard was delivered last December.