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Germany to boost Ukraine firepower with Leopard battle tanks

Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a visit at the Bundeswehr army training center in Ostenholz on October 17, 2022, near Hodenhagen, Germany. Scholz has vowed to modernize Germany's armed forces with a special EUR 100 billion budget following Russia's military invasion of Ukraine. (David Hecker/Getty Images/TNS)

Germany pledged to supply Ukraine with more than 100 Leopard 2 battle tanks in a joint effort with allies, providing Kyiv’s forces with a significant upgrade in firepower and earning effusive praise from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

In a first step, Germany will make a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks available from stocks held by its armed forces, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government said Wednesday in an emailed statement. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters in Berlin that the first German tanks could arrive in Ukraine within three months, possibly too late to counter a Russian offensive that defense officials have warned could come as soon as next month.

The eventual goal is for Germany and its partners to supply two battalions totaling 112 Leopards and the government in Berlin will give allies the required authorization to supply their tanks, according to the statement. The package includes training in Germany for Ukrainian troops, logistics, ammunition and maintenance.

“We are talking here about very effective weapons systems,” Scholz said in a statement to the lower house of parliament, in which he also defended his policy of not acting unilaterally but in concert with European and NATO partners.

“It was right and it is right that we did not allow ourselves to be pushed but chose, and will continue to choose, this close cooperation,” Scholz told lawmakers.

Scholz and Zelenskyy discussed the tanks plan in a call Wednesday. The Ukrainian leader also published a tweet in which he praised what he said were “important and timely decisions” and said he was “sincerely grateful” to Scholz and Germany.

The Biden administration is expected to join the tanks alliance and announce as soon as Wednesday that it will offer Ukraine its main battle tank, the M1 Abrams. The move would signal Washington had dropped its resistance, which it justified by arguing that the vehicle consumes too much fuel and is difficult to operate.

The German decision to ship the Leopards is the latest step in a radical overhaul of German defense policy triggered by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine 11 months ago. Until then, Germany refused to send weapons to conflict zones and had allowed its armed forces to deteriorate during decades of underinvestment.

Immediately after the invasion, Scholz announced the creation of a special fund worth €100 billion ($109 billion) on top of the regular defense budget and said Germany would lift military spending to meet a NATO goal of 2% of gross domestic product.

Ukraine has long been pleading for heavy battle tanks amid expectations that fighting will intensify after the winter. While Scholz’s government is one of the biggest providers of military and financial assistance to Kyiv, the German leader has been criticized for appearing to drag his feet over the decision to send the Leopards or allow allies to do so.

Wary of the potential to provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin, Scholz argued that any decision had to be coordinated among NATO allies and seemed to be waiting for a US commitment to send the Abrams.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Ukraine’s allies were overestimating the potential of the battle tanks to influence the war, calling it a “deep delusion.”

Any Abrams and Leopard tanks supplied to Ukraine will “burn just like all the others,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call, the Tass news service reported.

Germany’s European allies own hundreds of Leopard 2s in different models. Poland on Tuesday formally requested German authorization to ship Ukraine 14 of its tanks.

Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto reiterated Wednesday that the Nordic country — which shares a border with Russia — is ready to take part in the shipment of Leopard tanks to Ukraine “in one or another way.”

Stopping short of offering its own tanks, of which Finland has about 200, Haavisto indicated it’s considering options, including providing training or spare parts.

The UK announced this month it would supply Ukraine with 14 of its Challenger 2s, the first time a Western country agreed to provide modern main battle tanks to fight Russian forces.

In his speech to parliament, Scholz sought to calm the fears of the “many citizens” who he said are concerned that sending the tanks could provoke Russian retaliation.

“That’s why I want to say to these citizens here: Trust me, trust the government,” Scholz said. “Because we are acting internationally, we will continue to ensure that this support is possible without the risks for our country increasing in the wrong direction,” he added. “That is why we are doing it this way and we will continue to do it this way.”


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