Monday, January 30, 2023

Germany resists intense pressure over tanks for Ukraine, saying ‘the situation has not changed’

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A new Leopard 2 A7V heavy battle tank, the most advanced version of the German-made tank.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Germany has again refused to commit to allowing German-made tanks to be sent to Ukraine despite intense pressure.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Tuesday there has been no change in Berlin’s position on whether to allow German-made Leopard 2 tanks to be sent to Ukraine, or on permitting other countries with German-made tanks to send their units to Kyiv. He added that the government still needed to assess the situation.

“I can tell you there is no new information here, the situation has not changed, and we are preparing our decision, which will come very soon,” he said at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

“We are looking into the matter, what the current status is regarding our Leopard tanks,” he said in translated comments. He noted that Berlin was looking not only at its inventory and industry stocks, but also at the compatibility of its tanks for combat in Ukraine, as well as issues around the logistics of supply and maintenance.

Aware that Berlin’s reluctance over tanks has attracted widespread criticism, Pistorius insisted that Germany was one of Ukraine’s top military supporters aside from the U.S. and U.K., and that this was “often forgotten in the public discussion.”

The latest comments from Berlin come after months of pressure on German government to offer Ukraine some of its Leopard 2 tanks, or to allow its allies to export their own German-made battle tanks to the war-torn country.

A defense summit last Friday at the Ramstein air base failed to deliver an agreement on tanks for Kyiv and, until now, only the U.K. had pledged to send 14 of its own Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, NATO’s Stoltenberg sought to defend Germany from what is likely to be inevitable criticism following this latest refusal to budge on tanks, saying he was “confident that we will have a solution soon.”

He noted that the war had reached a “pivotal moment,” however, and that allies “must provide heavier units to Ukraine. And we must do it faster.”

Kyiv has for months pleaded with its allies for heavy battle tanks that it says could be decisive in the outcome of the war.

Germany was believed to be reluctant to send its own tanks unless the U.S. delivered its own Abrams vehicles. Washington has been noncommittal, saying that just the training to maintain and operate its tanks would require months.

German Defense Minister Pistorius insisted Tuesday that there was no disunity between Berlin and its allies, saying, “there are some partners that are still evaluating their decisions and others want to go a bit faster, but we are not un-united.”

Allies’ frustration

Despite Germany’s assurances, Kyiv’s allies have become frustrated with Berlin’s reluctance over tanks.

On Saturday, the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania issued a joint statement for Germany “to provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now.” Poland and Finland have repeatedly expressed they are prepared to supply Leopard 2 units, with Reuters reporting that Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday signaled Warsaw could proceed without Berlin’s approval:

“We will ask for such permission, but this is an issue of secondary importance. Even if we did not get this approval … we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine”, Morawiecki said Monday, according to Reuters. “The condition for us at the moment is to build at least a small coalition of countries.” 

Germany’s position seemed to have been thawing over recent days. On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told French news outlet LCI that Berlin would not block Poland from sending its own Leopard 2s to Ukraine. That same day, newly appointed German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, who only assumed his post last Thursday, on Sunday said that he expected a decision imminently.

France said it has not excluded sending its own Leclerc tanks to Ukraine. After meeting with his German counterpart Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters that he had “asked the army minister to work on it, and nothing has been ruled out.”

He added that a decision would be made based on several criteria: ensuring any offer of tanks is not “escalatory” and accounts for the “reality in terms of capacity, maintenance in operational condition and training times.” The third criteria, Macron said, is not weakening France’s own defense capabilities.

— CNBC’s Ruxandra Iordache contributed reporting to this story.

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