The Polish prime minister has said his country would be willing to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine without securing Germany’s approval if Berlin does not agree to their re-export at Friday’s meeting of western defence ministers at Ramstein airbase.
Mateusz Morawiecki said in a radio interview on Thursday that “consent was of secondary importance” when it came to German-made tanks, because the key issue was to get military aid to Ukraine urgently.
“We will either obtain this consent quickly, or we will do it ourselves,” Morawiecki added, heaping further pressure on Berlin to allow German made Leopard 2s to be sent to Ukraine in preparation for a spring offensive.
His comments came as the US Defense Department formally announced new military assistance for Ukraine valued at up to $2.5bn, including armoured vehicles and support for Ukraine’s air defence. The aid includes 59 Bradley fighting vehicles and 90 Stryker armoured personnel carriers, but not Abrams tanks.
Poland, along with Finland, has said it wants to give 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, which would normally require German approval, but it is one of a number of countries trying to force the pace at a time when Berlin is still negotiating.
Arvydas Anusauskas, Lithuania’s defence minister, said others could follow suit at the Ramstein meeting on Friday. “Some of the countries will definitely send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, that is for sure,” he said.
Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, met his newly appointed German counterpart, Boris Pistorius, in Berlin on Thursday, but neither mentioned the Leopard standoff in brief commentsbefore their meeting.
Previously, German officials signalled Berlin was willing to break the logjam if the US would also agree to send over some of its own Abrams tanks to Ukraine. But the US said on Wednesday it did not want to do that, because the Abrams, which has a jet turbine engine, is fuel inefficient and so requires complex logistics support.
Colin Kahl, the US undersecretary of defence for policy, said: “The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive, it’s hard to train on, it has a jet engine – I think it’s about three gallons to the mile with jet fuel. It is not the easiest system to maintain.”
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said for the second time in two days there was little time to be wasted wrestling with decisions. Speaking by video link at a special event at the Davos gathering of the global elite, he said: “This is not a cinema where you wait for the film to start.”
Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, however, warned that if Russia was to be defeated in a conventional war in Ukraine, it could lead to nuclear war. “The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war,” he wrote, adding: “Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends.”
Few believe such rhetoric should be taken at face value, Russian nuclear messaging is usually designed to intimidate or provoke anxiety in the west just as leaders weigh up how much military aid to provide to Ukraine this week. But there was little sign of hesitation among many western nations, putting the focus squarely on Germany.
Britain, which has already said it will supply 14 of its own Challenger 2 tanks, said it would provide an extra 600 Brimstone anti-tank missiles, at a pre-meeting of nine countries in Estonia. “We’re in it for the long haul,” said Ben Wallace, the UK defence secretary.
The grouping, which includes Poland and the Baltic states as well as Britain, released a joint pledge declaring: “We commit to collectively pursuing delivery of an unprecedented set of donations including main battle tanks, heavy artillery, air defence, ammunition, and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine’s defence.”
Estonia announced a military aid package worth €113m and said the total value of its support was more than 1% of its GDP in the period since the war began. Sweden said it would donate 50 Type 90 infantry fighting vehicles and Archer artillery. Denmark announced it will donate 19 French-made Caesar howitzers.
France, too, hinted it might consider sending its Leclerc tanks to Ukraine as part of an arrangement with Germany. “The subject is complicated and hasn’t been settled yet in Paris. But we are thinking about it,” a French official told Politico. It could be discussed at a joint Franco-German cabinet on Sunday, they suggested.