Western leaders are set to gather on Friday for a critical meeting that was supposed to unveil a major new weapons package for Ukraine but is instead marred by an escalating row over whether Berlin should allow its allies to give Kyiv German-built main battle tanks .
In a sign of tensions caused by German hesitation, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his government could supply Ukraine with German-made main battle tanks even if Germany disagreed. Berlin must give countries permission to re-export armaments manufactured in Germany.
Germany will not allow Poland and other allies to give those tanks until Washington agrees to supply Ukraine with a US-made equivalent, specifically M1 Abrams, advisers to Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
US officials said Abrams tanks were too complicated and expensive to operate in Ukraine compared to the German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks that Finland, Poland and Denmark wanted to donate.
US officials say Abrams tanks are too complicated and expensive for use in Ukraine.
Photo: KACPER PEMPEL/Portal
These tensions erupted in public acrimony ahead of the meeting of up to 50 countries led by the United States on Friday at Ramstein Air Base, a US Air Force base in Germany. The countries are coordinating their largest and most sophisticated arms delivery to Ukraine to date.
So far, the West has discussed giving Ukraine only a small number of tanks. But they have become a powerful symbol of how much countries are willing to give and how much they are willing to risk Russia’s wrath.
The tank debate comes as a growing consensus within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that Ukraine could use the heavy combat vehicles to retake territory from ill-equipped Russian soldiers, and as a strong signal that Western support for Ukraine is not waning. as Russia had hoped. Many Western supporters see the coming months as critical in the war, as Ukraine seeks to push further into Russian-held territory while Moscow itself mobilizes soldiers for its own potential offensives.
The NATO allies, along with Finland and Sweden aspiring to join, have more than 2,000 Leopard tanks, which the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies says are the most advanced in the world. However, it is unclear how many of them are ready to fight and could be sent to Ukraine.
Poland – which has offered 14 Leopard tanks, provided other allies also give up some of them – now says it can proceed without German consent.
“Consent is secondary. Either we get that approval or we will do what needs to be done ourselves,” Mr Morawiecki said late Wednesday. Germany, he added, “is the least proactive country of the group, to say the least. We will continue to put pressure on the chancellor.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his government could supply Ukraine with German-made main battle tanks, even if Germany disagreed.
Photo: Hollie Adams/Bloomberg News
A senior Polish government official said Warsaw believes Mr Scholz’s hesitation has isolated Germany in Europe and diminished its credibility, potentially forcing Mr Scholz to compromise with allies at Friday’s meeting.
The dispute flares up as NATO allies arrange a new round of arms shipments they see as crucial in Ukraine’s struggle. As part of this package, the alliance is expected to deliver weapons that were once considered too difficult for Ukraine or beyond the West’s collective comfort zone.
The US is expected to supply Stryker armored fighting vehicles for the first time, while Sweden will offer 50 CV90 tracked infantry fighting vehicles and 12 modern Archer 155mm self-propelled howitzers. Estonia, with a population of just over a million, has pledged dozens of heavy artillery pieces and other hardware worth nearly 1% of its gross domestic product.
France this month pledged to provide AMX-10 RC, which are considered light tanks because they move on wheels instead of treads. The UK announced that it would make Challenger 2 tanks available to Ukraine, the first NATO-type main battle tanks destined for Ukraine.
The allies would have to provide more such heavy weapons “because the war is in a crucial phase,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday.
“That means more armored vehicles,” he said. “It means main battle tanks, as we’ve seen, Britain and France have already announced.”
Ukraine could use heavy combat vehicles to retake areas from ill-equipped Russian soldiers.
Photo: KACPER PEMPEL/Portal
British officials hoped that their offer of Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine would persuade Mr Scholz to drop his objections to the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to the country.
Not yet. The chancellor’s reluctance to send tanks stems from concerns related to German history, a desire to act only by consensus with the US and other allies, and national opinion, senior officials said.
According to a recent survey by the opinion research institute Insa, around 50 percent of Germans are against sending tanks to Ukraine, while only 38 percent are in favor.
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Mr. Scholz and other German politicians were very sensitive to the fact that Nazi tanks rolled over what is now Ukraine and Russia during World War II, these officials said.
Using German tanks to now attack Russia in the same area could give Mr Putin an opportunity for a propaganda campaign against Germany and the West, particularly if a German-made tank were captured and put on display for propaganda purposes, officials said.
Germany, too, is concerned about an escalation of the conflict by providing equipment that Russia could provoke. But those concerns have increasingly fallen out of favor in Washington, where US officials have expressed frustration that Germany is trying to follow the US rather than show more leadership in Europe.
“How not to escalate? What are they thinking about?” Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) said in an interview Wednesday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “If Ukraine goes under, democracy will start to go under and Europe is in danger… Germany should make its own decision.”
Russian media have portrayed the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar as a key strategic outpost after Moscow claimed its forces had taken it in their first victory in months. Ian Lovett of the WSJ fact-checked the propaganda reports. Photo: Diana Chan
– Jenny Strasburg contributed to this article.
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