Ukraine has received 18 modern Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks from Germany to ward off the Russian attack. "Yes, we delivered the Leopard tanks as announced," said Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) in Rotterdam at a press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
According to the Ministry of Defense in Berlin, ammunition and spare parts as well as two Buffalo armored recovery vehicles and the German-trained crews also arrived in the Ukraine. They followed 40 Marder-type infantry fighting vehicles already in the country.
"As promised, our tanks arrived punctually in the hands of our Ukrainian friends. I'm sure they can do something important at the front," said Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD). Together with Sweden and Portugal, the federal government has promised a battle group. Pistorius said: "In order to redeem that, Germany even delivered four tanks more than initially planned. You can rely on us!"
According to his ministry, the next step will be to deliver older Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks. These are currently being repaired by German industry. The tank repair is therefore financed by Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands. The aim is to provide the first 25 tanks by the summer, around 80 by the end of the year and to increase to at least 100 Leopard 1A5s in the course of 2024.
On January 25, after lengthy domestic political wrangling, the federal government announced the goal of "quickly assembling two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine." In Ukraine, these are usually equipped with 31 tanks each. The main participants in the initiative are Poland, Norway, Canada and Spain. Poland delivered the first four Western main battle tanks of the older Leopard 2A4 type to Ukraine in February. Germany provides the Ukraine with 18 Leopard 2A6, Portugal another 3 of the weapon systems.
Basis for Ukrainian counterattacks?
Experts firmly believe that the Leopard 2 is clearly superior in combat against Russian armored troops. One reason is that it has a stabilized weapon system and can therefore fire while driving, but the T-72, which is often used by the Russian armed forces, has to stand still for the shot.
In mid-March, the Ukrainian Leopard 2 crews completed their training on the Leopard with combat shooting. At the end of the training, the crews practiced attacking and retreating from an enemy at the Bergen military training area in Lower Saxony. The aim of the training was "that these forces are able to fight completely independently with this very modern, actually the most modern main battle tank that we have to offer," Brigadier General Björn Schulz, commander of the Bundeswehr Armored Forces School, explained there. Between 82 and 85 percent of the target displays were destroyed during the exercises. The German trainers rated this as very good.
Four soldiers are the crew of the Leopard 2, from which they only fight "mounted", i.e. from the vehicle: the driver, a gunner, a loader and the commander. With superior firepower and its fire control system, the Leopard is "capable of dueling" in direct confrontation with the enemy on sight.
The Chair of the Defense Committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann (FDP), described the delivery as an important step towards defending Ukraine's freedom. She demanded: "We must not let up in our efforts to ensure that Ukraine can find freedom and peace again."
Scholz: No debate about the delivery of fighter jets
How does it go from here? Will Scholz soon give the green light for further weapon systems? It doesn't look like that. In Rotterdam he made it clear again that he does not want to lead the debate on the delivery of fighter jets. When asked what Ukraine needs now, he answered: "More of everything we've already done. And that's what we're making available now." The delivered weapons would also have to be equipped with sufficient ammunition. "That's what we're concentrating on and not on debates that aren't pending," said Scholz, referring to the fighter jets.
The Dutch Prime Minister Rutte chose a completely different tone. "I repeat: we have no taboos. We exclude nothing." Rutte emphasized that there are concrete talks about the delivery of fighter jets. "But nothing has been decided at this moment." Several Eastern European countries have announced that they will make Soviet-designed fighter jets available. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy only called for Western-style aircraft in a video message at the EU summit last week.