Germany will send its coveted Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to bolster the country’s war effort, Der Spiegel reported Tuesday night, citing unnamed sources. According to the exclusive report by the German news agency, Chancellor Olaf Scholz decided to supply the main battle tanks after “months of debate”.
The Bundestag is scheduled to debate the issue on Wednesday morning. The decision to deploy them would be a milestone in Western support for Kyiv after days of intense pressure from some NATO partners on Berlin.
CNN reached out to the German government for comment Tuesday night but received no response.
The report comes shortly after United States officials announced on Tuesday that the Biden administration is finalizing plans to send US-made tanks to Ukraine. Germany told the US last week that it would not send its Leopard tanks unless the US also agreed to send its own M1 Abrams tanks.
Sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine would provide the Kiev Armed Forces with a modern and powerful military vehicle ahead of a possible Russian spring offensive. It would also be a blow to the Kremlin, which has seen a growing campaign to equip Ukrainian troops with high-tech combat systems as Russia’s ground war nears the one-year mark.
Germany had resisted a growing drumbeat of Western pressure to ship some of the tanks to Ukraine, with Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, repeatedly calling for more time and insisting the move would come with pros and cons for Berlin.
Warsaw upped the ante on Tuesday when it formally asked permission to send its own Leopards, a move Berlin had previously said it would not block.
Several European countries also own some leopards, and Poland had made efforts to re-export these to Ukraine, even though Germany was not on board. But Scholz and Pistorius’ decision was seen as crucial as the tanks are made in Germany and Germany normally has control over their export and re-export.
A Polish official told CNN on Tuesday that, to their knowledge, Berlin has not yet officially notified Warsaw of a decision to send the Leopards to Ukraine.
The Bundeswehr has 320 Leopard tanks in its possession but is not disclosing how many would be combat-ready, a Defense Department spokeswoman previously told CNN.
Several high-tech combat systems have been pledged to Ukraine since the turn of the year amid a renewed wave of Western military aid. The US last week finalized a huge military aid package to Ukraine worth around $2.5 billion in weapons, including Stryker fighting vehicles for the first time, while the UK and a number of EU countries agreed to tanks to send.
Pistorius, who became Germany’s defense minister on Thursday, saw his first few days on the job dominated by efforts by key allies to join the trend by shipping Leopards to Ukraine. Germany, in turn, sought guarantees that the US would also send its own tanks.
But frustration among some leaders spread after a summit in Berlin last Friday with no agreement on sending Leopards, with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accusing Germany of “wasting time” by failing to reach a decision.
The Leopard 2 tank would be a powerful combat vehicle for the battlefields of Ukraine.
Each tank contains a 120mm smoothbore gun and a 7.62mm machine gun; It can reach speeds of 70 km/h (44 mph) or 50 km/h off-road, making maneuverability one of its key attributes. And there is all-round protection against threats, including improvised explosive devices, mines or anti-tank fire, according to German manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly urged countries to end the dispute over sending the tanks.
“We have spoken hundreds of times about the lack of guns. We can’t just rely on motivation,” he said during a virtual appearance at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last week.
In an apparent dig at Germany’s delay, Zelensky added: “There are moments when there is no reason to hesitate. When people say – I’ll give you tanks if someone else will.”
Russia, meanwhile, had tried to threaten Germany while she was deliberating. Asked during a regular press conference after Moscow’s reaction whether Berlin would allow the tanks to be sent in, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said relations between the two countries were “already at a pretty low point,” adding that there is currently “none.” substantial dialogue with Germany or with other EU and NATO countries.”
“Of course, such deliveries do not bode well for the future of relations. They will leave an immediate mark,” Peskov said.
Previous military aid, such as America’s HIMARS missile system, has been vital in enabling Ukraine to launch a series of successful counter-offensives in recent months.
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