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Poland to Send German-Made Tanks to Ukraine Despite Berlin’s Hesitancy

January 24, 2023

Poland said Monday it will send its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, regardless of any objections from Berlin. Several European armies operate the tanks but require Germany’s approval to re-export them to Ukraine.

“We will apply for such consent [from Germany], but this is a secondary topic,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters. “Even if we do not get this consent in the end, as part of a small coalition — even if the Germans would not be in this coalition — we will still hand over our tanks together with others to Ukraine,” he added.

Morawiecki did not elaborate on which countries could be part of such a coalition. Lithuania and Finland have said they would be willing to send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but they have not indicated that they would be willing to do so against Germany’s wishes.

German pressure

Germany is under intense pressure from Ukraine and Western allies to send its highly regarded Leopard 2 tanks to aid Kyiv’s forces but is refusing to make a quick decision.

Following a meeting Friday in Ramstein, Germany, of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — an alliance of about 50 states giving military support to Kyiv — Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, explained his country’s hesitancy.

“The impression which sometimes arose that there is a united coalition— and that Germany is blocking it — is wrong,” Pistorius said. “There are good reasons for a delivery, and there are good reasons against it. And in light of the overall situation of the war, which has lasted nearly a year already, all pros and cons must be weighed very carefully,” Pistorius said.

Ukraine appeal

Ukraine says it urgently needs modern Western tanks to repel Russia’s invasion and launch a new offensive in the spring. In recent days its president has appealed to allies for more weapons.

“I am truly grateful to all of you for the weapons you have provided, every unit helps to save our people from terror. But time remains a Russian weapon,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the leaders gathered Friday in Ramstein, via video link from Kyiv. “We have to speed up. Time must become our common weapon, just like air defense and artillery, armored vehicles and tanks, which we are negotiating about with you and which, actually, will make the victory,” Zelenskyy said.

Britain last week confirmed plans to send 14 of its Challenger 2 main battle tanks. The United States and France have not ruled out sending Ukraine their main tanks, the Abrams and the Leclerc.

Germany’s Leopard 2 tank is seen as the most suited to the battlefield, partly owing to its relatively lower fuel consumption and limited Ukrainian supply lines. European armies have hundreds in their arsenals that could be rapidly deployed to Ukraine.

Domestic politics

Speaking Sunday, Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock — a member of the Green party, part of the ruling coalition — said her country would not prevent others from sending Leopard tanks: “For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked, we would not stand in the way,” Baerbock said.

Domestic political tensions between the ruling coalition partners are causing confusion, says analyst Benjamin Tallis of the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“[Baerbock’s statement] doesn’t actually equate to permission because of the national security considerations in this case. It is actually the chancellery — and so Olaf Scholz himself — who would have the final yes or no say on this. And as his new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, said on Friday, he has not decided yet,” Tallis told VOA.

Nuclear fears

Analysts say the Kremlin’s nuclear saber-rattling is causing concern in Berlin.

“The chancellery is enormously afraid of nuclear war, and they perceive that they are the prime target for that. I don’t know how this strange perception came about … I have a bit of an impression that Scholz has lost sight of the fact that Germany is actually a part of the NATO alliance,” Gustav Gressel, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Reuters.

Tallis agrees. “Russian propaganda has been targeting Germany in particular to try and sow this nuclear fear and try and make them more vulnerable to the kind of nuclear blackmail that now seems to be working.”

Unlike many of its Western allies, Tallis said Germany has not yet called for a complete Ukrainian victory over Russia. “It’s quite widely accepted now I think that should there be a decisive defeat for either side in this war, it will have a system-transforming effect. Germany … doesn’t seem up yet to the task of facing that level of change. I think there’s a nervousness about that as well,” he told VOA.

Poland’s prime minister said Monday that his country is building a coalition of nations ready to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine even if Germany does not give formal permission for such transfers.

Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters that Poland will seek Germany’s permission, but that asking for Berlin’s approval is of secondary importance.

“We are constantly exerting pressure on the government in Berlin to make its Leopards available,” Morawiecki said.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told French TV channel LCI Sunday that if Poland were to request permission to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, “We would not stand in the way.”

Until Baerbock’s comments, Germany had been reticent to send its own Leopard 2s to Ukraine or approve their transfer by countries that purchased the tanks from Germany.

Ukraine has long sought heavy tanks to combat Russian forces using more modern tanks than those in Ukraine’s arsenal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote Monday on Telegram that what Ukraine needs is not 10-20 tanks, “but several hundred” in order to achieve its goal.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that the debate among European countries about whether to send Ukraine tanks showed “increasing nervousness” within NATO. He also warned that countries supplying weapons to Ukraine “will carry responsibility for that.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Sunday did not say whether Germany would agree to provide Ukraine with battle tanks, but the Reuters news agency reported that he said such decisions would be made in coordination with allies including the United States.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he does not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine. He cautioned, however, that sending tanks must not endanger France’s security or escalate the war between Ukraine and Russia.

British Foreign Minister James Cleverly said Sunday in an interview with Sky News he would like to see the Ukrainians “equipped with things like the Leopard 2.”

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, the newly installed Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that the United States should offer its heavy Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine to encourage Germany to send its Leopard 2s as well.

“Just one Abrams tank would be enough to prompt allies, notably Germany, to unlock their own tank inventories for the fight against Russia,” he said.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons also told ABC that it was time to set aside U.S. concerns about delivering the Abrams.

“I respect that our military leaders think the Abrams is too sophisticated, too expensive a platform to be as useful as the Leopards, but we need to continue to work with our close allies and move forward in lock step.”

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