Germany is under intense pressure to supply Ukraine with its Leopard 2 tanks, which could have a significant impact against the Russian invasion.
European allies have already sent hundreds of modernized Soviet tanks to Ukraine since the start of the war nearly 11 months ago. But Kyiv has argued for more advanced military equipment to gain the upper hand in the fight against Russia.
The United States and its allies failed to agree on the supply of the coveted German battle tanks to Ukraine during a meeting on Friday, as Russia continued to threaten an escalation of the conflict in Europe.
Leopard 2 tanks are considered one of the most successful models in the world and are widely used throughout Europe.
Why are Leopards so coveted?
The Leopard was first produced in the late 1970s to replace the American M48 Patton and quickly became renowned for its firepower, mobility and rugged armour.
Leopard 2 is “a bit like the [Volkswagen] Golf of the German tank industry: a universally recognized all-rounder,” according to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
About 3,500 of the 60-ton main battle tanks, developed by German arms manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), were produced.
The tanks are armed with a 120mm smoothbore cannon and can move at speeds of up to 70 kilometers (44 miles) per hour with a range of 500 km (310 miles). They also provide “comprehensive protection” to troops against threats such as mines, anti-tank fire and improvised explosive devices, according to the manufacturer.
The last four models produced are still in service – from 2A4 to 2A7.
What is blocking the supply?
Germany was reluctant to supply the tanks to Ukraine due to the anti-militarist stance it took after World War II. However, the pressure mounted on Germany and they were placed in a difficult position.
Poland has expressed its willingness to send 14 Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of an international coalition. Finland said it was not opposed to the expeditions.
But countries cannot send the tanks without Germany’s approval as they are supplied under German license.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has suggested that Poland could send Leopard tanks to Ukraine without Germany’s blessing.
It is not yet known how fast the tanks would arrive. German arms maker Rheinmetall, which produces the Leopard’s gun and electronics and has dozens of older models, said it would not be able to deliver any of the tanks until 2024 due to the need for rebuild and repair them.
We, 🇱🇻 🇪🇪 🇱🇹 Foreign Ministers, call on Germany to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine now. This is necessary to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and quickly restore peace in Europe. Germany, as the leading European power, has a particular responsibility in this respect.
— Edgars Rinkevičs (@edgarsrinkevičs) January 21, 2023
What does Russia say?
Some analysts have said that the supply of Leopards could further aggravate the conflict with Russia, if interpreted as direct involvement of NATO countries in the war.
Russia has warned of an “extremely dangerous” escalation if NATO were to deploy high-tech weapons. The introduction of such weapons, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, would take the war to “a whole new level, which, of course, does not bode well from the point of view of global and pan-European security. “.
Anatoly Antonov, Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, said Russia would retaliate if Ukraine used Western-supplied weapons to target Russia or the Crimean peninsula.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now a top security official, has warned that continued Western support for Ukraine could lead to nuclear war.
What impact could the Leopards have?
Supplying Ukraine with around 100 tanks could make a “significant” difference in the war, according to the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“An army can break through enemy lines and end a long period of trench warfare,” Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger told German newspaper Bild. “With the Leopard, soldiers can advance tens of kilometers at a time.”
But Ukrainian troops would need to be trained quickly to use the equipment, the operations of which are far more complicated than Soviet-era tanks.
The Ukrainian military is also reportedly trying to catch up on other new hardware due to arrive in Ukraine, including recently promised French AMX-10 RC light tanks, German Marder infantry vehicles and Bradley fighting vehicles from the United States. .