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

Berlin has reportedly succumbed to huge international and domestic pressure and is set to announce that it will send German-manufactured tanks to Ukraine that Kyiv says it needs to push back Russian forces, according to media reports on Tuesday evening citing government sources.

It is reported to be planning to send a company of Leopard 2A6 battle tanks – usually comprising 14 of the vehicles – in conjunction with other partners, namely Scandinavian countries in possession of the units. Berlin is also understood to have said it would give its permission for export licences for countries such as Finland, Sweden and Poland who have bought the tanks from Germany, allowing them to be sent to Ukraine.

The decision is expected to be made officially on Wednesday and Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is due to be questioned in the Bundestag in the morning in a debate likely to be dominated by the tank decision.

The head of Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s presidential administration immediately hailed the German reports. “This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy against the autocracy from the bog,” Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram.

The 2A6 version of the Leopard is one of the latest versions of the tank, which was first developed for the West German army in 1979.

The decision marks a groundbreaking one for Germany, ending months of painful debate and soul-searching, with the move marking the first time that German tanks will have been used on the battlefield in Europe since the second world war.

Germany’s historical responsibility as the instigator of that global conflict has been used by those arguing it has a moral obligation to send tanks to protect the victims of Russian aggression.

But at the same time, Germany’s Nazi past has been precisely what has held back decision-makers who have been deeply fearful that increasing firepower through the deployment of tanks could escalate the conflict – and leave Germany in danger of being labelled as an aggressor.


No indication has been given on the timing of the tanks’ arrival in Ukraine. The Leopard manufacturer Rheinmetall has said they could be ready to be dispatched by March. The defence minister, Boris Pistorius, said on Tuesday after a meeting in Berlin with Jens Stoltenberg, the general secretary of Nato, that he was encouraging countries with Leopards to start training Ukrainian soldiers in their use.

Berlin’s decision, after months of insisting it would only act in an alliance, is thought to have come after high-level, often tense talks in the past few days between Berlin and Washington and to be directly connected to a decision reportedly in the process of being hammered out in Washington to send its Abrams battle tanks.

Kyiv, which has been appealing for the tanks since last April, has given repeated reassurances to Berlin in particular that the tanks would only be used for defence purposes.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the chair of the parliamentary defence committee, who has been highly critical of Scholz’s hesitancy, welcomed the decision even as she said it had come very late. “The decision was arduous, it took far too long, but in the end it was unavoidable,” she said, calling it “redemptive news for the abused and brave people of Ukraine”.

The deputy chair of the foreign committee in the Bundestag, Thomas Erndl of the conservative CSU, welcomed the decision, calling it “inevitable”. He told the DPA press agency: “It is important that we are now leading a European alliance, so that Ukraine receives a significant number of Leopard 2 tanks and that the training [of Ukrainian soldiers in their use] can begin immediately.”


But he criticised Scholz for a “massive weakness in decision-making”, saying that it had led to an “enormous loss of trust in Germany, from Europe and the USA”.

Lars Klingbeil, the head of the Social Democrats and a close colleague of Scholz’s, defended the chancellor. “It annoys me immensely that this careful weighing up in this curtailed debate is presented as an attempt to disassociate ourselves from Ukraine,” he told the left-leaning Berlin daily TAZ. “Olaf Scholz carries the responsibility as the German chancellor for what is a historic situation – not those who are constantly giving sly advice on Twitter or in Talkshows.”

Earlier in the day, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US government was considering sending a considerable number of its Abrams tanks. France is also believed to be on the verge of announcing it will send its own tanks to Ukraine.

Last week, it was reported that Scholz had told Joe Biden that Germany would be prepared to send its Leopards – the most ubiquitous tank in Europe and considered to be the most practical and suitable for use in staving off the Russian military – if the US sent its tanks. Biden was initially reported to have rejected the idea.

Some leading US military experts supported the idea even as they acknowledged that the gesture would be largely symbolic and would help enable Germany to make the difficult decision amid widespread concerns, in light of its war-mongering past, that the move could escalate the conflict with Berlin portrayed as the aggressor.

According to Spiegel, which broke the news on Tuesday evening, citing government sources, the Leopard tanks are believed to be in the ownership of the German military. Middle- to medium-term, tanks in the ownership of their manufacturer, Rheinmetall, could also be revamped and sent to Ukraine. However, this could take until the end of this year, Rheinmetall’s chief executive said on Wednesday, saying that as some of the units had not been used for the best part of a decade, they were “mouldy inside” and needed to be almost completely reconstructed.

Scholz has been under immense pressure both at home, from within his own coalition government made up of his Social Democrats, Greens and the pro-business FDP, and internationally to make an announcement regarding the tanks.

The appearance of indecision and hesitation has earned him and Pistorius widespread scorn and accusations they could end up escalating the conflict by their inaction.

Earlier on Tuesday, Poland announced it had submitted an application to Germany requesting that it be allowed to send 14 of its Leopard tanks to Ukraine, with Berlin indicating that it would be prepared to grant the export licence.

The German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, appeared to pave the way for Warsaw to make its request on Sunday when she told French television in a surprise statement that Germany would not block the export of Leopard tanks to Ukraine from third countries.


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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