Germany lends more support to Ukraine forces with tanks pledge

Announcement of 16 bridge-layer tanks adds to news of howitzer sale authorisation

Germany’s defence minister has decided to send 16 Biber bridge-layer tanks to Ukrainian forces, the ministry said on Friday.

“The Biber will enable Ukrainian troops to cross waters or obstacles in combat,” the ministry said in a statement. “The delivery of the first six systems will take place this year, starting in autumn. Ten more systems will follow next year.”

The Biber tanks are armoured support vehicles equipped with a bridge-laying system instead of the turret, which can be deployed to help troops cross streams, ditches or other obstacles on the battlefield.

The announcement comes days after it emerged Germany had given the green light to a request by the defence company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann to produce 100 Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers for the Ukrainian army.

Though the legal step by the economic ministry does not yet constitute a sale of the howitzers, it was nonetheless seen as a significant increase of Germany’s longterm support for Ukraine’s military effort.

Following initial reports in Der Spiegel, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann confirmed Kyiv had ordered 100 howitzers from the company for a total price of €1.7bn (£1.4bn), and that the German economic ministry had given the necessary authorisation on 13 July.

Germany has already sent nine Panzerhaubitze 2000 artillery systems from its own army’s stocks to Ukraine, which have been put into action on Ukraine’s frontline with Russia since late June.

In May, the German defence minister, Christine Lambrecht, granted the shipment of 15 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks with about 60,000 rounds of ammunition. The Social Democrat politician this week said five of those tanks had now arrived in Ukraine.

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a historic shift away from Germany’s pacifist stance on military spending in his Zeitenwende speech on 27 February, but has faced criticism for failing to follow up rhetoric with hardware.

While public support for exporting weapons to Ukraine has remained steady in Germany in spite of growing concerns about the Russian gas crisis, opinions differ significantly between the west of the country and the eastern states.

While 54-61% of respondents in a regular Forsa survey have been in favour of military support for Kyiv since the beginning of May, only 32% of respondents in the east said in this week’s poll that it was right to give Ukraine heavy arms.

At a public dialogue event in the southern city of Bayreuth on Thursday night, the economy minister, Robert Habeck, was booed by a group of protesters who held up signs with the word Kriegstreiber (warmonger). The Green politician, who had voiced support for sending arms to Ukraine even before Russia’s invasion in the spring, said most of the German population was “decided and united” in its stance, and that Russia’s “imperialism” would not stop in Ukraine.


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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