Olaf Scholz steers clear of commitment to supply of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

Zelenskiy warns against delaying military support after German chancellor’s reticence at Davos summit

Germany’s chancellor avoided committing to the supply of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine at the Davos summit on Wednesday, although he held the door open to a positive decision at a special summit of western defence ministers on Friday.

Olaf Scholz did not mention the Leopard tanks at all when a Ukrainian delegate asked him “why the hesitancy” in signing off their re-export – prompting an apparently frustrated Ukrainian president to warn the same forum against delay.

The German leader argued his country was “strategically interlocked” with the US, France and other “friends and partners”, and that any decisions about weapons had to be part of a collective effort to help Ukraine win the war.

“We are working together with them, we are discussing with them,” Scholz said, referring to Germany’s allies. “We are never doing something just by ourselves, but together with others, especially the US, which are very important in this common task to defend the Ukrainian independence and sovereignty.”

A few minutes later, Ukraine’s president delivered a speech via video link to the same forum, arguing instead for urgent action. Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the world “must not hesitate” in helping his country fight off the invaders, and added: “The time the free world uses to think is used by the terrorist state to kill.”

About 50 western defence ministers of the Ukraine contact group will assemble at the Ramstein airbase in Germany on Friday, at a meeting chaired by the US secretary, Lloyd Austin, to discuss and coordinate future military aid to Kyiv.

Earlier this month, the US and Germany jointly announced they would send Bradley and Marder fighting vehicles to Ukraine, and some sources said they believed something similar could happen at the end of this week.

Poland and Finland have said they want to send Ukraine Leopard 2 tanks, of which there are about 2,300 stockpiled in varying states of repair by Nato countries. But permission from Germany, where the Leopard was originally made, to re-export them is needed.

Ukraine has said it wants as many as 300 western tanks to help it win the war, while experts believe it needs at least 100 to mount a credible spring offensive. The tanks are needed to replace losses, and Leopard 2s have superior capabilities, such as thermal optics, to the Soviet-era tanks that comprise Ukraine’s heaviest armour.

Poland has said it wants to send a squadron of 14, the same number of tanks Britain has pledged to supply. On Monday, the UK said it would deliver 14 of its Challenger 2s, announcing the pledge before Friday’s meeting in an attempt to push Germany to follow suit.

Scholz came under further pressure on Wednesday from across the EU. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, accused Russia of pursuing “a strategy of destruction, a strategy of terror, trying to bomb the Ukrainian people into submission”.

Michel, a former Belgian prime minister, argued it was the right moment to give western tanks, setting aside any concern it could be interpreted as escalatory. “The time is now. They urgently need more equipment and I am personally in favour of supplying tanks to Ukraine.”

MEPs also directly urged Scholz to deliver Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine without further delay, as they voted to adopt a report on common security and defence policy by 459 votes to 93, with 85 abstentions.

Vladimir Putin said he thought Russia’s victory in the war was inevitable on a visit to factory workers in St Petersburg.

The Russian president praised “the courage and heroism of our fighters … and of course the work of the military-industrial complex and factories like yours and people like you”. He suggested defence workers could be immune to future military drafts.

On Thursday, the British and Polish defence ministers will meet with their counterparts from the Baltic states in Estonia, in a Ramstein pre-meeting designed to put further pressure on Germany to move forward with the Leopard 2s.

But there were signs that London’s manoeuvres were irritating Berlin. A German government source told Reuters that the UK appeared to be ignoring Berlin’s recent decision to provide a Patriot missile defence system and 40 Marder fighting vehicles.

Accusing the UK of acting in response to “internal political pressure”, government sources added that leaning on allies was “not helpful”. They added: “The delivery of tanks to Ukraine is not taboo. But such questions will continue to be clarified in transatlantic lockstep.”


Dan Sabbagh Defence and security editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Ben Wallace and EU defence ministers to press Germany over tanks to Ukraine
UK defence secretary will meet counterparts from Poland and Baltics in drive to get Berlin to agree re-export of Leopard 2 tanks

Dan Sabbagh and Kate Connolly in Berlin

17, Jan, 2023 @6:37 PM

Article image
Ukraine calls for fighter jets after Germany’s offer of Leopard tanks
Kyiv seeks to break ‘taboo’ on supply of aircraft as defence ministry announces withdrawal from Soledar

Daniel Boffey in Kyiv

25, Jan, 2023 @3:22 PM

Article image
‘Almost invisible’: Germans lose patience with Olaf Scholz as he hesitates on Ukraine
The new chancellor has faced criticism abroad for his stance, and is now coming under fire at home

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

04, Feb, 2022 @7:01 AM

Article image
Germany’s Scholz backs more Balkan states joining EU
Chancellor says it is in Germany’s and Europe’s interest for Bosnia and others to join Croatia in bloc

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

14, Dec, 2022 @12:32 PM

Article image
Berlin plans to send German Leopard tanks to Ukraine, according to reports
Germany will send its 2A6 battle tanks in conjunction with other countries such as Finland, Sweden and Poland, say reports citing government sources

Kate Connolly in Berlin

24, Jan, 2023 @7:46 PM

Article image
Olaf Scholz announces bailout for Germany’s largest Russian gas importer
Chancellor unveils government plan to take 30% stake in Uniper, as country struggles to cope with drastic cut in supplies

Kate Connolly in Berlin

22, Jul, 2022 @3:04 PM

Article image
EU seals deal to supply Ukraine with a million rounds of shells
Estonian defence minister says agreement ‘shows me one thing: if there is a will there is a way’

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

20, Mar, 2023 @3:50 PM

Article image
French-German friendship ‘still alive’ as Macron meets Scholz amid tensions
Two leaders under pressure to repair relations after rifts over defence, energy and China

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and Philip Oltermann in Berlin

26, Oct, 2022 @3:55 PM

Article image
Ukraine: the crisis that brought the west together
As Kyiv confronts the possibility of Russian invasion, Vladimir Putin’s opponents have had an unexpected bonus

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic Editor

18, Feb, 2022 @3:28 PM

Article image
Joe Biden meets Olaf Scholz in effort to keep Ukraine strategies aligned
German chancellor’s working visit to the White House focuses on continuing support for Kyiv

Julian Borger in Washington

03, Mar, 2023 @8:28 PM