Poland ups pressure to send German-made tanks to Ukraine

Poland has reiterated it is ready to send tanks to Ukraine without Germany’s approval, as pressure mounts on Berlin to deliver the heavy weapons demanded by Kyiv.

The Polish prime minister said his government would ask Berlin for permission to send its German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but described that approval as “secondary”.

Mateusz Morawiecki said: “Even if we didn’t get this permit… we would still transfer our tanks to Ukraine together with others.” He added that “the condition for us at the moment is to have at least a small coalition of countries form”.

Berlin is under intense pressure to release the military hardware after failing to make a decision at a much-anticipated international defense summit at the US military base in Ramstein, southwest Germany, on Friday.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s statement on Sunday that her country would “not stand in the way” of Poland sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine has caused some confusion in Berlin. It is unclear for the time being whether their statements indicate a change of government or are simply an attempt by the Greens to correct Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s botched communication strategy.

Baerbock did not repeat her comment when pressed on the matter Monday morning. “It is important that we, as an international community, do everything we can to defend Ukraine, so that Ukraine wins. Because if she loses, Ukraine will cease to exist,” she told the press at a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels.

Baerbock’s party colleague Robert Habeck, Federal Minister of Economics, signaled ten days ago that his ministry would not block the re-export of Leopard 2 tanks from other European countries to Ukraine. “There is a difference between making a decision of your own accord and interfering with the decision of others,” Habeck said at the time.

While the re-export of tanks made in Germany must be approved by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Habeck’s license to make such decisions effectively shifted the decision-making process to Scholz’s office.

It is difficult to imagine that Scholz would actually block Poland’s explicit request on Monday to supply Kyiv with Leopard 2 tanks from its reserves, not least because it would go beyond the Chancellor’s line for the Allies to position themselves more uniformly on such issues were as the media reports suggested.

Germany’s new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius on Sunday evening dismissed reports of an open disagreement between Washington and Berlin over the battle tank issue. “Germany was not isolated,” Pistorius said of last Friday’s meeting at Ramstein Air Force Base.

Poland has agreed to send 14 Leopard tanks to Ukraine. In earlier statements, Morawiecki described Germany’s position as unacceptable. “I’m trying to weigh my words, but I’ll be blunt: Ukraine and Europe will win this war – with or without Germany,” he said.

The issue will be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, but no immediate breakthrough is expected.

Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said his country could supply Ukraine with a few Leopard tanks and spare parts and/or train soldiers to drive and maintain the tanks, but suggested the decision rested with Germany. “We are still in the process of determining what kind of package will be formed. We hope it’s a position that countries like Germany can participate in,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s most loyal allies in the Baltic states made it clear that they wanted Germany to act quickly. “Let me make it clear that Germany is a motor of Europe and also carries a special responsibility,” said Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu. He said that Estonia spends 1% of national income on military aid to Ukraine and urged others to do the same. “We must give the Ukrainian people a shield, but also a sword to liberate the territory.”

His Lithuanian counterpart Gabrielius Landsbergis said there was a “very lively debate” going on in Germany. “I hope that it will be as fruitful as in the past that Germany is sending the tanks. Unfortunately, as those waiting for their shipment, we will have to wait another day.”

Landsbergis recalled Lithuania’s oppression by the Soviet Union and said “we must conquer the fear of defeating Russia,” without naming specific countries. “If we don’t prepare for Russia to lose the war, then we don’t seriously want to help Ukraine win,” he said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he thought such weapons should be made available to the Ukrainian army, but said it was a decision by EU member states.

The EU is expected to pledge a further 500m through its European Peace Facility. France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said she had “no doubt that we will take this decision today”.