BERLIN — After weeks of hesitation that saw growing impatience from Germany’s allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Wednesday that his government would supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 main battle tanks and approve requests from other countries to do the same.
In a statement, the German government said it would initially supply Ukraine with a company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks, which includes 14 vehicles, from its own stocks. The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with a total of two battalions, or 88 tanks.
“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our abilities,” Scholz said after a Cabinet meeting in Berlin.
Germany was “acting in close coordination” with its international allies, he added.
The long-awaited decision came after US officials said on Tuesday that a preliminary agreement had been reached for the United States to send M1 Abrams tanks to help Ukrainian troops push back Russian forces that remain entrenched in the east. of the country almost a year after the invasion and war in Moscow. .
Scholz had insisted that any decision to supply Ukraine with powerful Leopard 2 tanks had to be made in conjunction with Germany’s allies, primarily the United States. By forcing Washington to commit some of its own tanks, Berlin hopes to share the risk of a violent reaction from Russia.
Ekkehard Brose, head of the German Army’s Federal Security Policy Academy, said it was crucial to tie the United States to the decision, to avoid Europe facing a single Russia with of nuclear weapons.
But he also noted the decision’s deeper historical significance.
“German-made tanks will again face Russian tanks in Ukraine,” he said, adding that it was “not an easy thought” for Germany, which takes its responsibility for the horrors of the Second World War.
“And yet, it’s the right decision,” Brose said, saying it was up to Western democracies to help Ukraine stop Russia’s military campaign.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described German and American intentions with the tanks as “a rather disastrous plan”.
“I’m sure many scholars understand the absurdity of this idea,” Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.
“Just because of the technological aspects, this is a rather disastrous plan. The bottom line is that it is a quite obvious overstatement of the potential (the supply of tanks) would add to the Armed Forces of Ukraine This is yet another mistake, a rather profound one,” the Kremlin official said.
Peskov predicted that “these tanks will burn like all the others. … Except that they are very expensive, and that will fall on the shoulders of European taxpayers.” he added.
Members of Scholz’s three-party coalition government welcomed the news ahead of the official announcement.
“Leopard is released!” said German MP Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a Green Party MP.
Marie-Agnès Strack-Zimmermann, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party who chairs the parliamentary defense committee, said the news was “a relief for an abused and courageous Ukraine”.
“The decision to approve (requests from other countries) and supply the Leopard 2 was difficult, but inevitable,” she said.
Strack-Zimmermann had been one of the loudest voices calling for a quick decision on arms deliveries to Ukraine.
However, two small opposition parties criticized this decision.
The far-right Alternative for Germany called the decision “irresponsible and dangerous”.
“Germany risks being drawn directly into the war,” said its co-leader, Tino Chrupalla. The party, known by its acronym AfD, has friendly ties with Russia.
The Left Party, which also has historic ties to Moscow, has warned of a possible escalation of the conflict.
“The supply of Leopard battle tanks, which breaks another taboo, potentially brings us closer to a Third World War rather than to peace in Europe,” party leader in parliament Dietmar Bartsch told Reuters. German press agency dpa.
Recent opinion polls showed that German voters were divided on this idea.
Pressure on Scholz mounted this week after Poland formally asked Germany to approve the shipment of Leopard 2 tanks from Polish stockpiles to Ukraine.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who was among the countries that appealed to Western allies to send tanks to Germany, thanked Scholz after Wednesday’s announcement.
“The decision to send Leopards to Ukraine is a big step towards stopping Russia,” he wrote on Twitter. “Together we are stronger.”
Other European nations have also indicated their willingness to part ways with their own Leopard or similar battle tanks as part of a larger coalition.
Still, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made it clear on Tuesday evening that he hoped for a significant number of tanks from Western allies.
“It’s not about five, or 10, or 15 tanks. The need is greater,” he said.
The German government has said that it plans to quickly start training Ukrainian tank crews in Germany. The package being put together would also include logistics, ammunition and maintenance.
Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed to this report.
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