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Ukraine gets Leopard tanks from Germany after Western allies rift

“Free the Leopards”

Germany has provided billions in humanitarian and military aid since the start of the war, but Scholz has generally stuck to a cautious approach rooted in his country’s heavy history and political culture. This has drawn criticism from Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states, which have long called for a stronger response to counter Russia’s expansionist aims.

Some had even coined the term “Scholzing”, which historian and commentator Timothy Garton Ash defined like “communicating good intentions, only to use/find/invent any reason imaginable to delay and/or prevent them from happening”.

Thousands of protesters gathered outside parliament in Berlin, while the Ukrainian government promoted a social media campaign calling on Germany to “free the leopards”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called for increased firepower since before Russia invaded last February.

He and his advisers have made it clear that the material offered by the country’s allies will not be enough to reclaim its territory, especially as both sides prepare for what many expect to be an intense period of crucial fighting. once winter is over.

“We need tanks – not 10-20, but several hundred,” Zelenskyy Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak said on his Telegram channel on Monday.

“In order for us to defeat the Russian Federation, we absolutely need tanks,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said in an interview last week. “The fact is that the question of which weapon is needed is determined by the military. It is the army that insists that tanks and heavy artillery are crucial today.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Wednesday. Markus Schreiber/AP

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Germany had more than 350 active Leopard tanks and another 200 in storage. Poland pledged to send a company of tanks, typically 14, but said deployment would make more sense as part of an international brigade. Several countries use Leopard tanks, including Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden.

The US has been frustrated by Germany’s efforts to pressure Washington over the issue, three US officials told NBC News last week, after Berlin signaled it would be more willing to provide tanks if Washington sent its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday that Ukraine’s allies have already agreed to send a significant amount of armored vehicles and tanks to Ukraine, with ‘other announcements in progress.

“Battle tanks are of course important, both in order to be able to repel new Russian offensives but also so that Ukraine can regain territory and establish itself as a sovereign and independent nation in Europe,” he said. he said alongside German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius.

“At the same time, we must understand that the allies have already decided to deliver both battle tanks, but also more armored vehicles, including infantry and combat vehicles.”

The UK has already pledged to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to the Ukrainian front line.

The deployment of the tanks will be a gradual process. Ukrainian troops must be properly trained, while tanks require parts for maintenance and are normally deployed alongside infantry units with their own supply and training needs.

Image: The Ukrainian Defense Contact Group meets at Ramstein Air Base
Ukraine’s allies met at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday but failed to reach an agreement on tanks.Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Germany may not be the only country to doubt a further increase in Western military aid to Ukraine, a move that Russia has consistently warned could cause a dangerous escalation between the powers. nuclear.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the German and US tank plans 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, it’s a rather disastrous plan. The bottom line is that it’s a quite obvious overstatement of the potential (the supply of tanks) would add to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. is yet another mistake, quite profound,” he added.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced the commander at the helm of his forces in Ukraine after months of battlefield setbacks and domestic criticism.

But Russia scored its first victory in months on the eastern frontlines of the war by taking the mining town of Soledar as part of its bloody campaign to seize nearby Bakhmut – although it won’t. is not clear what part of the operation was carried out. by the Russian military or mercenaries from the Wagner group.

Associated press contributed.

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