Germany announces it will supply Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine
German has confirmed it will make 14 Leopard 2A6 tanks available for Ukraine’s war effort, and give partner countries permission to re-export further battle tanks to Kyiv, overcoming misgivings about sending heavy weaponry that Ukraine sees as crucial to defeat the Russian invasion.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s seeming hesitancy on the question of delivering the battle tanks wanted by the Zelenskiy government had in recent days caused growing consternation among western allies.
Washington’s reported promise on Tuesday to deliver a significant number of its own Abrams tanks to Kyiv, in step with its European partners, appeared to break the deadlock, however. On top of the German company of Leopard 2A6 tanks, Finland, Spain and the Netherlands will also contribute vehicles of the same model, according to German media reports. A second battalion will be made up of Leopard 2A4 tanks supplied by Poland and Norway.
Shortly before midday on Wednesday local time, Berlin announced it would send a company of Leopard 2A6 tanks and give the required authorisation for other European countries to deliver the German-manufactured machines.
“This decision follows on from our official line to support Ukraine to the best of our ability,” said Scholz. “We are acting in close international coordination.”
He later told the Bundestag: “In Germany, we had to break a rule and now we supply the most weapons, together with Great Britain. If we sum up what we’ve decided to deliver so far, then we can say that Germany will always be pioneering support for Ukraine.”
The US is yet to make an official announcement on its expected delivery to Ukraine.
The Kremlin has downplayed the impact that Western tanks will have in repelling its forces in Ukraine, saying that the military aid to Ukraine would “burn like all the rest.”
In remarks to reporters on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov called the transfer of tanks to the Ukrainian army a “failed plan.”
“This is an overestimation of the potential that this will add to the Ukrainian army,” Peskov told reporters. “These tanks will burn like all the rest,” he continued. “They are just very expensive.”
He claimed the diplomatic wrangling over the deliveries of the tanks showed that Nato was divided in its support for Ukraine. “Clearly, not everything is going smoothly: it’s not going smoothly within the alliance and with the availability of tanks,” he said.
Reports of the German decision were welcomed in the country by the German government’s three coalition partners and the leading opposition party, and criticised by the far right and far left.
“The announcement that Leopard tanks will also be sent from Germany to Ukraine is very good news,” said Anton Hofreiter, the Green party chair of the Bundestag’s European affairs committee. Kyiv had to be supported “until the Putin regime understands that negotiations are a better option than continuing the war”, Hofreiter told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.
Florian Hahn, the defence policy spokesperson of the conservative CDU/CSU party bloc that makes up the leading opposition in Germany’s parliament, added: “Chancellor Scholz and the SPD has finally given up its crazy resistance.”
Berlin’s hesitant stance on the battle tank question had caused disquiet among its western allies and puzzlement in Germany in recent days. Critics in Scholz’s own governing coalition accused his chancellory of being paralysed by inner-party conflicts.
After the Leopards announcement, some of that criticism flipped into praise.
“The SPD chancellor has achieved one of his biggest aims: delivering battle tanks only in step with the Americans,” wrote Die Zeit. “That way, people in his circle say, he wanted to minimise the risk of Vladimir Putin using German Leopard tanks as a pretext for directly targeting Germany.”
The Conservative broadsheet Die Welt even spoke of a “coup” for the chancellor. “Scholz has managed to get the US to change course,” it wrote. Until Tuesday, Washington had argued that its own Abrams tanks were more lumbering and difficult to maintain than European Leopards, and thus of less immediate use for Kyiv’s defensive effort.
The Leopard announcement was criticised by Left party circles around the firebrand politician Sahra Wagenknecht, as well as the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
The former Die Linke party leader, who has been reported as being on the verge of leading a new breakaway party, said the delivery of battle tanks was a “madness that could end in catastrophe”. Sevim Dağdelen, a Wagenknecht ally, tweeted that the announcement, “at Washington’s behest, paved the way into a war”.
Tino Chrupalla, a co-leader of the AfD, said delivering Leopards was “irresponsible and dangerous”, which “threatens to drag Germany directly into the war”.
Some of the far right and far left’s arguments were echoed in Scholz’s SPD, especially in the leftist old guard that sees the Social Democratic party as owing a debt to a historically pacifist foreign policy agenda.
“What will come next?” asked Ralf Stegner, a veteran SPD MP, speaking before the tanks’ shipment was confirmed. “We are now delivering battle tanks. Will we next deliver fighter jets or battleships? Are we going to be talking about sending troops at some point?”