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BERLIN/DAVOS — International efforts to ship modern Ukrainian tanks may depend on Germany — but it’s waiting for the United States to act first, which isn’t happening.
Ahead of a meeting of Western defense ministers on Friday at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is being urged to help Ukraine secure the best German Leopard 2 tanks ahead of a possible spring offensive. The reason: in addition to overseeing its own fleet of Leopard tanks – and Europe’s largest economy – Scholz must approve donations of German-made tanks from other countries.
It is expected that Germany will soon be able to at least allow the allies like Poland and Finland to send their Leopards to Kyiv. And officials and diplomats in Berlin say the Chancellor may even offer to help Ukraine train and maintain the Leopards.
But that’s the farthest Germany is likely to go yet. Unless, of course, the United States is also willing to send tanks. Scholz indicated as much on Wednesday, keeping a low profile on the subject when pressed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“We are [among] those who do the most” on military aid to Ukraine, the Chancellor said, listing almost four minutes of military equipment that Berlin has already supplied or will soon send, from air defense systems to infantry fighting vehicles Marder.
“We never do anything alone, but with others, especially the United States, which is very important in this common task of defending Ukrainian independence and sovereignty,” he added.
It’s a line German officials have been repeating in recent days: Berlin’s decision on Leopard tanks is tied to the Americans’ willingness to send in their own M1 Abrams tanks. Yet, as President Joe Biden’s administration prepares to announce a major new US arms package for Ukraine on Friday, aid is not expected to include US tanks.
This is causing a headache for European leaders like Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who wants to form a broad alliance of countries that would each supply a few Leopards to Ukraine, in addition to a large tank battlegroup.
So far, only Finland has publicly raised the opportunity to participate in such a program. Many other countries seem to be holding back as long as mighty Germany remains on the fence.
Spain, for example, which has more than 200 Leopard 2 tanks, has already said that the issue of sending some of these tanks to Ukraine “is not on the table as we speak today”. , as Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said on Tuesday in Davos. .
Yet EU diplomats say countries like Spain could hardly maintain such a line if Berlin – and Washington – changed course.
In search of a leader
Pressure on Scholz intensified after Britain announcement last weekend that it would send its own Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is convening a meeting in Estonia on Thursday with defense ministers from Eastern Europe and the Baltic to further increase the pressure on Berlin.
The French also plan to send their own Leclerc tanks to Ukraine in an effort to provide Berlin with a common framework for tank expeditions.
“The subject is complicated and has not yet been settled in Paris. But we are thinking about it,” a French official told POLITICO, before nodding to an upcoming meeting on Sunday. “We will see what will be decided during the Franco-German Council of Ministers.”
Western officials fear Ukraine is running out of time before Russia launches a new, broader offensive against Ukraine, which could require late-game tank shipments to bolster Kyiv’s defenses.
“For months now, Scholz has been warning against going it alone when it comes to arms supplies to Ukraine,” said Katja Leikert, a German lawmaker on the EU’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Centre-right Christian Democratic Union, the main opposition party in the country. “But now he is doing just that: his reluctance to let European allies deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv is a dangerous solitary action.”
She told POLITICO: “Germany should play a leading role in a European coalition of states delivering Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine.
Strong criticism is also coming from the Greens party, a junior coalition partner in the government led by Scholz’s Social Democrats. In a thinly veiled push to send tanks to Ukraine, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens said earlier this week that she hopes Friday’s Ramstein meeting will “set decisions in motion that will help Ukraine.” to release more people.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Davos that the “main message” of the Ramstein meeting will be to provide “more advanced support, heavier weapons and more modern weapons”.
Pressure for Germany to do more also came from Strasbourg on Wednesday. The European Parliament past a non-binding resolution urging Scholz to form an international coalition to send Leopards “without further delay”. And European Council President Charles Michel told MPs: “The time has come. Ukraine needs more military equipment. I strongly support tank delivery.
A potential move by Scholz to help train the Leopards or build the supply chain for maintenance, as officials and diplomats in Berlin discussed on Wednesday, could be of some relevance, given that the tanks are made in Germany.
“In general, the availability of spare parts and an assured logistical supply are crucial for the effectiveness of the main battle tank system, including, for example, recovery tanks to recover damaged tanks,” said Georg Löfflmann. , Assistant Professor of War Studies at Warwick. University.
General Rajmund Andrzejczak, chief of staff of the Polish Armed Forces, told POLITICO on Wednesday that Ukrainians could be trained quickly in the use of Western tanks, urging Kyiv partners to avoid unnecessary delays.
“It’s a decisive battle point right now,” he said, pointing to Russian efforts in Soledar and Bakhmut. “So now or never. If we don’t send, if we talk too much, bureaucracy, delays, it might be too late.
Alexander Ward and Suzanne Lynch contributed reporting from Davos. Lara Seligman and Paul McLeary contributed reporting from Washington. Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting from London. Gregorio Sorgi contributed reporting from Brussels.