Germany will make a decision on sending Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine in the next week, as European allies assess how to help the government in Kyiv in the event fighting builds in the spring.
With calls increasing for Berlin to provide heavy tanks, Germany will likely decide to supply the Leopards, according to two officials familiar with the government’s thinking.
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Berlin will make a decision before a meeting of senior defense officials from allied nations at the American airbase in Ramstein on Jan. 20, according to a German official familiar with the plans, who asked not to be identified because the matter is confidential. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his German counterpart Christine Lambrecht will also meet in Berlin the day before.
At the Ramstein meeting, Lambrecht will send a clear message on the Leopards, the official said. As of Thursday, Berlin still hadn’t made a concrete decision, but pressure is mounting for Germany to send heavy tanks, according to another European official.
The UK is prepared to send its own Challenger 2 battle tanks to Ukraine as part of a joint agreement with other allies, the official said.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has come under increasing pressure to allow the delivery of battle tanks to Ukraine, one week after he announced that Germany would supply armored vehicles and an additional Patriot air system to Kyiv.
Now there are signs that Scholz may be willing to back down from his initial opposition to sending Leopard tanks or that he may allow countries like Poland and Finland to re-export their own Leopards to Ukraine, a move that would require Berlin’s consent.
“Germany should not stand in the way, when other countries decide to support Ukraine, regardless of what Germany decides,” Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said Thursday with regard to Poland’s request to send Leopard 2 tanks. Justice Minister Marco Buschmann also said in an interview on Friday that sending Leopard 2 tanks “should not be a taboo.”
German government spokeswoman Chistiane Hoffmann said that the Polish government has so far not made an official request and made clear that sending these tanks without Germany’s permission would be “illegal.”
“The approval by the federal government is needed,” Hoffman said at a regular government press conference in Berlin. “These are the rules.”
It’s still unclear if Germany will only allow other countries to send Leopard tanks or if it will send such tanks itself. Besides the Leopard 2 tanks, there are still about 180 versions of the older Leopard 1 in Germany. German officials point out that the Leopard 1, which is from the 1960s, would still be able to compete with a Russian battle tank.
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