Germany’s much-awaited shipment of 18 Leopard 2 battle tanks has arrived in Ukraine, the German defence ministry has confirmed.
After months of prevaricating, the German government announced in late January it would provide Kyiv with the state-of-the-art fighting vehicles as part of a deal under which several EU states would contribute to a shipment of two Leopard 2 battalions and 31 American-made M1A2 Abrams tanks from the US.
Berlin had promised 14 vehicles but increased that to 18 in order to make up the numbers of a Ukrainian battalion, with Portugal contributing three tanks and Sweden 10. Poland has supplied Ukraine with a battalion of the older Leopard 2 A4 model.
“As promised, our tanks have arrived on time in the hands of our Ukrainian friends”, Boris Pistorius, the German defence minister, said on Monday night. “I am sure that they can make the difference on the front.”
The vehicles were handed over at the Ukrainian border at the end of last week, the news magazine Der Spiegel reported, adding that 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles and two tank recovery vehicles promised by Berlin have also arrived in Ukraine. For security reasons, the German government would not comment on the route by which the tanks were delivered.
Kyiv, which had a limited numbers of tanks from the Soviet or post-Soviet era, has said it urgently needs heavier armour for its defence against Russia’s invasion, with the German-made Kampfpanzer Leopard 2 at the top of its list.
Armed with a 120mm smoothbore gun and two 7.62mm machine guns, the 1970s-designed machine is the most popular tank in Nato’s inventory because of its speed of up to 42 miles an hour, fuel efficiency, and ability to shoot with high levels of accuracy even while manoeuvring over rough terrain.
Operated by a crew of four – a commander, gunner, loader, and driver – about 2,000 Leopard 2s are in use by European countries.
Over the last two months, Ukrainian soldiers have been trained in using the complex weapons system of the tank’s A6 variant at a Bundeswehr site in Munster, Lower Saxony.
“The Ukrainian soldiers did not only prove themselves to be incredibly motivated, but also able to handle the technology and deployment principles”, a Bundeswehr commander, Björn Schulz, told Der Spiegel.
Confirmation that the German tanks had been delivered came as the Ukrainian defence ministry spokesperson Iryna Zolotar said British-made Challenger 2 tanks were “in Ukraine already”.
The defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, posted a picture of a Challenger 2 alongside other western-made military vehicles on his Facebook page, describing the British vehicle as a work of military art.
The UK’s Ministry of Defence declined to comment, but confirmed Ukrainian tank crews training in Britain had returned home after completing their tank training.