German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has agreed to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 battle tanks, according to media reports, after weeks of mounting pressure on Berlin to give Kyiv the heavier weapons it needs to repel the Russian invading forces.
The news that Berlin will supply battle tanks to Kyiv comes as US officials told media that Washington was also set to start a process that would eventually send dozens of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukrainian frontlines.
A US government source told Al Jazeera there would be an announcement at the White House on Wednesday regarding the supply of the Abrams. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency that the US commitment could total around 30 Abrams to be delivered over the next few months.
Berlin has also granted other countries, such as Poland and Finland, permission to re-export their stockpiles of German-made tanks to Ukraine, German media reported Tuesday citing unnamed government sources. Countries that purchase military weapons from Germany generally must obtain permission from Berlin before re-exporting those weapons to another country.
News outlet Spiegel, which first broke the news of Scholz’s deal to supply tanks to Ukraine, said Germany would supply at least one company of Leopard 2A6 tanks from stockpiles. German army – the Bundeswehr. Generally, equipping a company means delivering more than 14 tanks.
There has been no official comment from the German government.
The Kremlin said supplying tanks to Ukraine would not change anything and the West would regret its “illusion” that Kyiv could win on the battlefield against Russia.
Russia’s ambassador to the United States said the possible delivery of Abrams tanks to Kyiv by Washington would be “another blatant provocation” against Moscow.
“It is obvious that Washington is deliberately trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said in remarks posted on the embassy’s Telegram messaging app on Wednesday.
“If the United States decides to provide tanks, then justifying such a move with arguments about ‘defensive weapons’ will certainly not work. It would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation,” he said.
So far, the United States has resisted supplying M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing significant and complex maintenance and logistical issues with the high-tech weapons. Washington thought it would be more productive to send German Leopards as many allies had them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the more complex Abrams.
By agreeing to send Abrams tanks, the US administration seems to be responding to the German chancellor’s request that Germany should be in tune with Washington.
Scholz had resisted for months the growing chorus of people urging him to send the tanks to Kyiv – not only Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but also NATO allies and members of Scholz’s coalition government.
Zelenskyy took a particularly hard line, saying Berlin’s procrastination was costing Ukrainians their lives.
Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Berlin, said Leopard tanks could provide the Ukrainian military with advantages over Russian forces.
“The thing to remember here is the real value that the Leopard 2 main battle tank has is that it is a heavier and faster tank than most of the tanks that the Russian army has in Ukraine,” he said.
“It is also true that very many countries in the European Union have some form of Leopard 2 tanks. The principle here is clear: there are many in the EU but also in European NATO countries”, did he declare.
Germany is one of Ukraine’s largest military donors. But there is skepticism about the value of sending tanks among a large part of the German public who worry that it could drag Germany deeper into an escalation of the war in Eastern Europe.
Kane said that while the German government was prepared to provide Ukraine with armored personnel carriers and its own form of air and missile defense systems, there was reluctance to send the Leopard 2 main battle tank, a offensive weapon.
“Germany has the historical legacy since World War II that hangs on all the shoulders of German chancellors, in that they don’t want to be seen in direct confrontation with the Russians,” he said.
Potential game changer
Ukraine has been calling for Western-designed battle tanks for months to fight the Russian invaders. The front line in eastern Ukraine has barely moved for weeks. With the tanks, Ukraine hopes to reclaim more land seized by Russia.
Analysts also say Russia is preparing for a major spring offensive, which will begin in Ukraine in March.
After media reports of Germany’s decision on Tuesday, Kyiv officials were quick to hail what they said was a potential change on the battlefield in an 11-month-old war.
“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews – the best tank crews in the world. This is what will become a real punch of democracy against the autocracy of the swamp,” wrote Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskyy’s office, on Telegram. Friedrich Merz, the leader of Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), welcomed the centre-left government’s decision.
“The decision is the right one,” the CDU chairman told the DPA news agency.
Green Party lawmakers in the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, also welcomed the decision.
“Leopard is released!” Bundestag Vice President Katrin Goring-Eckardt wrote on Twitter.
“Now I hope he can quickly help Ukraine in its fight against the Russian attack and for the freedom of Ukraine and Europe.”
No Western-designed heavy tank has yet been delivered to Ukraine to fight Russian forces. So far, Ukraine has received only Soviet-made tanks that were in the inventory of NATO countries in Eastern Europe.
Of the 14 European states that have Leopard tanks, only Finland and Poland have so far publicly signaled their willingness to deliver them to Ukraine. The UK has pledged 14 Challenger tanks.