Germany confirmed it will send a long-requested contingent of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, an important show of support for Kyiv that is expected from the United States.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement on Wednesday, coupled with an expected US decision to send about 30 M-1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, marks a milestone that followed weeks of intense pressure on Berlin from some of his NATO allies.
Scholz has informed his cabinet of his decision that Germany will continue to increase its military support for Ukraine, said government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit. “The federal government has decided to provide the Ukrainian armed forces with Leopard 2 main battle tanks,” he said.
“This is the result of intensive consultations with Germany’s closest European and international partners. This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability.”
The announcement came a day after CNN reported that the Biden administration was 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, although US officials repeatedly stressed that the Abrams tanks were too complex and difficult to maintain .
The dispute over whether the Germans would send Leopards in support of Ukraine threatened to reveal some of the first cracks in the united Western response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But Scholz’s announcement and the news that Washington is preparing its own delivery seem to show that the US and its allies are still working in lockstep when it comes to backing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his country’s fight against the Russians .
The goal of the Germans is to put together two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, the government statement said. In a first step, Berlin is providing a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks, with which the training of the Ukrainian crews can begin quickly in Germany. 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 told reporters on Wednesday that training would come first, then the tanks would be sent east.
The Bundeswehr has 320 Leopard 2 tanks in its possession but is not disclosing how many are combat-ready, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman previously told CNN.
Germany will also allow other countries to export the battle tank, it said. Poland on Tuesday formally asked Germany for permission to relocate some of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Several European countries also own some leopards, and Poland had made efforts to re-export these to Ukraine, even though Germany was not on board.
Scholz spoke to the German Bundestag after the announcement and said he had spoken to Zelenskyy before coming into parliament.
During his speech, the German leader said Germany, along with the US and Britain, had sent most of the weapons systems to Ukraine and insisted his country would be at the forefront in helping Ukraine.
The delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine will provide the Kiev Armed Forces with a modern and powerful military vehicle ahead of a possible Russian spring offensive. It will also come as 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 nears the one-year mark.
Germany had initially resisted increasing Western pressure to ship some of the tanks to Ukraine, with Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, repeatedly calling for more time and insisting the move would come with pros and cons for Berlin.
The US decision to supply Ukraine with Abrams tanks represents an abrupt reversal from its previously stated position.
While the Biden administration never completely took the option of sending American tanks off the table, 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 require a significant amount of training to operate.
Instead, the tanks have been repeatedly touted as a long-term option – although critics have said it is the right time as Ukraine braces for the possibility that Russia will mobilize more troops and launch a new offensive. Zelenskyy has repeatedly pleaded with Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares for an expected major Russian counteroffensive in the spring.
The decision to send US-made Abrams tanks will be based on an “iterative process” that will assess Ukraine’s needs, US-appropriate assistance, and technical considerations for operating and maintaining the tanks, John said Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, said Tuesday night.
“We’ve talked about how the Abrams is an incredibly powerful system, but it’s a very expensive system to run and maintain,” Kirby told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on AC360.
“It’s got a jet engine – that doesn’t mean Ukrainians can’t learn it, it just means we have to include all this stuff in any system that we might provide them with,” he added.
Sky News Arabia was the first to report that the US is considering sending the tanks.
Britain last week set the precedent for supplying main battle tanks to Ukraine after it committed to sending Kyiv 14 of its British Army Challenger 2 tanks. The deal has crossed what appears to be a red line for the US and its European allies.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly asked their Western allies to provide modern main battle tanks – not only to defend their current positions, but also to wage battles against the enemy in the coming months. Ukrainians fear a second Russian offensive could begin within two months.
Although Ukraine has stocks of Soviet-era tanks, modern Western tanks offer greater levels of speed and maneuverability. In particular, the relatively low maintenance requirements of the Leopard compared to other models leads experts to believe that the tanks could quickly help Ukraine on the battlefield.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed Germany’s move after Wednesday’s announcement as “the right decision”.
“The right decision of NATO allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Along with Challenger 2, they will strengthen 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.
Welcoming the news, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff reiterated that the country needs “many” Leopard tanks. Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram: “The first armored step has been taken. Next comes the “Panzerkoalition”. We need lots of leopards.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki praised Chancellor Scholz for his decision. “Thank you Olaf Scholz. The decision to send Leopards to Ukraine is a big step in stopping Russia. Together we are stronger,” Morawiecki wrote on Twitter.