After weeks of geopolitical wrangling, a major moment in the war in Ukraine has arrived: Germany has announced that it will supply Leopard 2 tanks to troops in Kyiv.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the move on Wednesday, bowing to mounting international pressure – led by the United States, Poland and a bloc of other European nations, who have called on Berlin to step up military support and pledge to send their wanted vehicles. .
The announcement is likely to be matched by the United States; Washington has signaled it is finalizing plans to send about 30 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, according to two US officials familiar with the deliberations.
And the influx of Western tanks into the conflict has the potential to change the shape of warfare. The shipments are a breakthrough in the West’s military support for Kyiv, signaling a bullish view around the world about Ukraine’s ability to reclaim occupied territory.
Basically, they can allow Ukraine to take the fight to Moscow’s forces and retake more occupied land, rather than focusing primarily on suppressing Russian attacks.
Here’s what you need to know about Wednesday’s developments and how they affect the war.
Scholz told the German parliament on Wednesday that his government will send 14 Leopard tanks in Ukraine, concluding months of deliberations and several days of tense negotiations with NATO partners.
“This is the result of intensive consultations that have taken place with Germany’s closest European and international partners,” a government statement said.
The German army has 320 Leopard 2 tanks in its possession but does not reveal how many would be combat-ready, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman previously told CNN.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Chief of Staff welcomed Germany’s announcement of sending his country Leopard 2 battle tanks and reiterated that “a lot” was needed.
“The first stage of the reservoir has been completed. The next step is the “tank coalition”. We need a lot of Leopards,” Andriy Yermak said on Telegram.
The objective is to “quickly assemble” two battalions with Leopard 2 tanks, the German government statement said. “The training of Ukrainian crews must begin quickly in Germany. In addition to training, the package will also include logistics, ammunition and systems maintenance.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the Leopard tanks could be operational in Ukraine in about three months.
The Abrams tank incorporation plan will likely be more complicated; not only do they first have to cross the Atlantic Ocean, but their systems are considered more complex.
“The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train. It has a jet engine,” Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for policy, told Reuters last week “I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Kahl said at the time as he gave the tanks to Ukraine, a sign of how quickly the U.S. position has evolved over the past few years. last days of negotiations.
The ability to get Ukrainians into the Leopards quickly was always seen as an advantage of sending this type of tank, compared to the bulkier Abrams.
The Abrams are also “significantly heavier” than most iterations of the Leopard, “so you have to give Ukraine additional engineering and recovery equipment,” senior mission officer Gustav C. Gressel told CNN. at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). .
Wednesday’s announcement means Ukraine will soon be in possession of a modern tank that would significantly bolster its arsenal ahead of the resumption of ground combat expected in the spring.
Ukraine is preparing for a Russian offensive in the coming weeks, aimed at completing the capture of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions – the main objective set by President Vladimir Putin for what he euphemistically calls his “military operation”. special”.
Ukraine’s highest-ranking army officer, General Valerii Zaluzhniy, said in December that Ukraine expected a Russian offensive anytime between late January and March.
Previous military aid, such as the US HIMARS rocket system, has been vital in helping Ukraine disrupt Russian advances and carry out a series of successful counter-offensives in recent months.
Kyiv hopes Western tanks will have a similar impact on the slow and relentless ground war in eastern Ukraine.
Tanks represent the most powerful direct offensive weapon supplied to Ukraine so far, a heavily armed and armored system designed to engage the enemy head-on instead of firing from a distance. If used correctly with the necessary training, they could allow Ukraine to regain territory against Russian forces that have had time to dig in defensive lines.
The United States has begun supplying refurbished Soviet-era T-72 tanks, but modern Western tanks are a generation ahead in their ability to target enemy positions. Ukrainian officials say they need several hundred main battle tanks not only to defend their current positions, but also to fight the enemy in the coming months.
“Of course, we need a lot of Western tanks. They are much better than the Soviet models and can help us move forward,” Lt. Gen. Serhiy Naiev told CNN.
Germany has said it will send 14 tanks to Ukraine “at first” and aims to get them into the hands of troops quickly.
Crucially, Berlin’s announcement will also likely encourage other European nations that have Leopards to re-export some of their vehicles. Typically, this would require Germany’s approval, and some countries had been reluctant to send tanks unless a coalition of nations doing the same could be formed.
“I call on all new partners who have Leopard 2 tanks in service to join the coalition and provide as many as possible,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. “They are free now.”
Several armies use Leopards. In total, there are around 2,000 Leopard 2 vehicles spread across Europe, at varying levels of readiness.
And many of them had already expressed a desire to ship some of their own to Ukraine, with Poland trying to rally support on the continent in case Germany refused to send theirs.
“Germany will give partner countries who want to quickly deliver Leopard 2 tanks from their stocks to Ukraine the corresponding permits to transfer them,” the Scholz government said on Wednesday.
Leopards aren’t the only modern tanks on their way to Ukraine. Germany’s move on Wednesday sees it join a growing movement among NATO powers to equip Kyiv with vehicles.
Plans being finalized in the United States will see around 30 Abrams tanks sent across the Atlantic. Earlier this year, the UK committed 12 Challenger 2 tanks.
Germany’s move follows weeks of Western pressure, ending a period of deliberation in Berlin that frustrated its allies and caused exasperation in Kyiv.
German officials concluded a NATO summit last Friday without an agreement to send tanks. Instead, officials pushed for a similar pledge from the United States before it was pulled. Berlin later said it would not prevent other countries from re-exporting their leopards, but was tight-lipped about its own stance.
Sending tanks to Ukraine was once a red line for Western leaders, who were generally willing to supply Kyiv with defensive weapons to repel the Russian threat, but had been reluctant to introduce systems that could put Ukrainian forces in the front of the scene.
Early in the war, in some corners of NATO, there was concern that going beyond military support ran the risk of escalating the conflict, or even introducing the threat of nuclear attack.
Nearly a year into the war, however, that reckoning has changed – largely thanks to Ukraine’s successful counter-offensives towards the end of 2022 and its ability to integrate new Western weapons systems. complex in its units.
Germany has been slower than some of its allies to push through the change in approach, with new Defense Minister Pistorius repeatedly calling for more time this week in the face of global pressure, and insisting that the Sending tanks would have advantages and disadvantages for Berlin.
But Piotr Muller, the Polish government spokesman, said on Wednesday that “without a doubt this diplomatic pressure is changing the German approach, and not just in the case of these tanks.”
Russia reacted angrily to early reports that Germany and the United States would send tanks to Ukraine, similar to how it reacted to the UK’s earlier decision to send tanks.
Kremlin officials have also sought to present the tank dispatch as an act of aggression against Russia, fueling their false narrative that their so-called military operation is necessary to defend Russian interests rather than capture Ukraine. .
Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechaev said in a statement on Wednesday that Berlin’s decision was “extremely dangerous” and takes the conflict “to a new level of confrontation”.
US and European tank donations to the Ukrainian war effort will bring “more suffering” to the country and “bring more tension to the continent,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN on Wednesday.
If US-made Abrams tanks are delivered to Ukraine, they will “burn like all the others”, and their cost will be a burden on European taxpayers, Peskov said.
But NATO allies backed Germany’s decision and repeatedly resisted Russia’s war pretext.
“The right decision of NATO Allies and Friends to send Main Battle Tanks to Ukraine. Alongside the Challenger 2s, they will bolster Ukraine’s defensive firepower,” British Prime Minister Rishi wrote on Wednesday. Sunak on Twitter: “Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure that Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace.”