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BERLIN – Germany and its European partners plan to “quickly” send two battalions of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine – suggesting around 80 vehicles – the Berlin government announced on Wednesday, adding that Germany would provide a company of 14 Leopard tanks 2 A6 “at first”. stage.”
Other countries likely to send Leopards to the war against Russia are Poland, Spain, Norway and Finland.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision – which emerged on Tuesday evening – marks a watershed moment in Western support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression, which entered its 12th month this week and could soon heat up further then that Moscow should launch a new attack.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters that the training of Ukrainian crews on the tanks would start “very soon” and that the Leopards would arrive in Ukraine in about two months.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was “very happy” with the promise of American, German and British tanks. “But frankly speaking, the number of tanks and the delivery time to Ukraine are critical,” he said in an interview with Sky News.
Andriy Yermak, Zelenskyy’s bureau chief, hailed the German announcement as a “first step”.
“Leopards are really needed,” he said on Telegram.
Zelensky himself too welcomed the move on Twitter. “Sincerely grateful to the Chancellor and all our friends” in Germany, he said.
Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechaev said in a statement that the decision was “extremely dangerous” and brought the conflict “to a new level of confrontation”.
Kyiv had long urged Germany and other partners to provide its military with the mighty German-made Leopard 2 tank, but Scholz was reluctant to make the decision, in part for fear that it could drag Germany or NATO down. in the conflict. He remained adamant that such a move needed to be closely coordinated and replicated by Western allies, notably the United States.
During a speech in the German parliament on Wednesday, Scholz tried to defend his long hesitations over tank deliveries, saying it was “right and it’s right that we didn’t rush” to make a decision, but insisted “on this proximity”. cooperation” with allies, notably the United States.
Scholz also stressed that Germany would not actively engage in war but would continue to seek to “prevent an escalation between Russia and NATO.” He also made a direct appeal to German citizens who might be skeptical: “Trust me, trust the German government: we will continue to ensure that this support is provided without our country risking going in the wrong direction. .
News of an imminent announcement by US President Joe Biden to send “significant numbers” of US M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine eased the Chancellor’s decision. Scholz had come under enormous pressure from European partners like Poland, as well as his own coalition partners in government, to no longer block delivery of the German tank. As they are of German manufacture, their re-export required the approval of the German government.
“The goal is to quickly form two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine,” a German government spokesman said.
“At first, Germany will provide a company of 14 Leopard-2 A6 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks. Other European partners will also hand over Leopard-2 tanks,” the spokesperson added.
The spokesman also said that the training of Ukrainian crews on tanks “must start soon in Germany”. Berlin would also provide “logistics, ammunition and systems maintenance”.
In addition to the 14 Leopard 2A6 tanks, Germany will also send two tank recovery vehicles, Deputy Defense Minister Siemtje Möller said in a letter to defense policy lawmakers, seen by POLITICO.
Möller wrote that Ukrainian tank crews will undergo six weeks of Leopard training in Germany, which is expected to begin in early February. “This procedure should allow support of the Leopard 2 A6 by Ukraine by the end of the first quarter of 2023.”
Germany will provide partner countries such as Spain, Poland, Finland and Norway, which “want to quickly deliver Leopard-2 tanks from their stocks”, with the necessary re-export permission, the spokesman said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted that he “warmly welcomes” Berlin’s decision. “At a critical time in Russia’s war, these can help Ukraine defend, win and establish itself as an independent nation.”
Spain, which has one of the largest Leopard fleets in the EU, with 347 tanks, has previously said it will send tanks to Kyiv as part of a European coalition, according to El País.
The Norwegian government plans to send eight of its 36 Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but no decision has yet been made, the Norwegian daily DN reported on Tuesday after a meeting of the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and the defence, citing sources familiar with the deliberation.
Portugal, which has 37 Leopards, could provide four tanks to the emerging European coalition, a source close to the government told Correio da Manhã on Tuesday evening.
The Netherlands, which is leasing 18 Leopards from Germany, is also considering providing some of its armored vehicles, Dutch news wire ANP reported, citing a government spokesperson. On Tuesday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was “willing to consider” buying the tanks from Germany and shipping them to Ukraine, but no decision had been made.
On Wednesday, Sweden’s defense minister said Sweden was not ruling out sending some of its own tanks later, according to Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.
Wilhelmine Preussen and Zoya Sheftalovich contributed reporting.
This article has been updated.