Germany okays Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine; U.S. promises M1 Abrams

Comment

BERLIN — The German government announced plans Wednesday to deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow other countries to send theirs, ending months of debate among Western allies and unlocking a package for scores of tanks that could help shift the balance on the battlefield.

In Europe, the goal is to quickly assemble two Leopard tank battalions — equivalent to at least 70 tanks — for Ukraine, the German government said in a statement. As a first step, Germany will provide a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its army’s stocks. European allies will also provide tanks with German approval.

The Biden administration is also due to announce Wednesday that it will send the main U.S. battle tank, the M1 Abrams, though probably not until at least the fall, a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the situation said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Washington is expected to send at least 30.

Ukrainian officials are counting on the Leopards — which are fast, relatively easy to operate and plentiful in Europe — to help their forces gain the advantage against a grinding Russian advance in the country’s east.

Germany’s Ministry of Defense said it aims for the tanks to be on the battlefield by the end of March, helping to arm Ukraine for a much anticipated spring offensive. That leaves a tight window for logistics and training — which is expected to begin within days.

For Ukraine, what’s so special about Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks?

Berlin had long resisted calls to send tanks without acting in tandem with allies, saying that it did not want to be seen as a direct participant in the war, inviting a potential retaliation from Russia. In recent weeks, German officials had been more explicit in linking any decision to send tanks to a similar move by the United States.

But intense international pressure — and an apparent reversal of Washington’s position on sending its battle tanks — appears to have broken the logjam. In a speech to parliament on Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended his decision to take time to coordinate with allies.

“It is correct to never go it alone,” he said. “We will do anything necessary to support Ukraine, but we want to avoid an escalation of this war, so it doesn’t become a war between Russia and NATO.”

Even as Scholz reminded lawmakers of Germany’s close geographical proximity to the war, Russia’s ambassador to Berlin warned that the decision to send tanks to Ukraine had crossed a red line and compared it to Nazi tanks invading Russia during World War II.

“This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation,” Sergei Nechaev said in a statement following the announcement. “Red lines are a thing of the past.”

As manufacturer of the Leopard 2, Germany held the key to the entire package of tanks being prepared for delivery to Ukraine because Berlin’s approval is required for reexport.

Poland and a number of other European members of NATO had indicated they are prepared to send Leopard 2s. Finland, Greece, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey all own at least 100 of them.

Training for Ukrainian forces on the Leopards will begin in Germany “almost immediately,” said Ministry of Defense spokesman Arne Collatz. Poland, which is also planning to send a company of 14 tanks, has also said it will begin training Ukrainian soldiers within days.

It is possible that more Leopard 2 tanks will be sent from German industry’s stocks, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Wednesday. German arms maker Rheinmetall has told German media that it can deliver 29 Leopard 2A4 tanks by April or May and a further 22 of the same model around the end of 2023 or early 2024.

“The decision to release and deliver the Leopard 2 was a tough one, but inescapable,” Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the German parliament’s defense committee, tweeted. “It is redeeming news for the battered and brave Ukraine.”

Leaders of NATO allies welcomed the move. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described it as the “right decision,” as Britain announced it would send battle tanks of its own. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki thanked Scholz and called it “a big step toward stopping Russia. Together we are stronger.”

European allies had hoped to announce a package of Leopards at a meeting on Ukraine at Ramstein Air Base in Germany last week. But Berlin’s new defense minister had said Germany needed more time to make a “careful” decision and assess its stocks.

As Germany dragged its feet, Poland had threatened to do so with or without Berlin’s permission. On Tuesday, Poland formally requested German authorization for reexport, ramping up pressure on Berlin to come to a decision. Hebestreit said that Germany has had no other requests from its allies to re-export Leopards as of Wednesday.

Agreeing to send the Leopards is a big step toward Ukraine ending the war “by winning it,” said Norbert Röttgen, a parliamentarian with the Christian Democrats and foreign policy expert. But it is a “catastrophic signal” that Germany rejected European action on tanks without an American contribution, he tweeted.

A Pentagon spokesperson said on Jan. 24 that the U.S. would support Ukraine’s security requirements, ahead of President Biden’s decision on the M1 Abrams tanks. (Video: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE)

Sudha David-Wilp, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Berlin office, also noted that it took the United States to get the deal going. “Germany came through at the last minute. But it was obvious that it was very skittish to put itself forward.”

With the United States now open to sending tanks, Scholz may have inadvertently succeed in securing a bigger package for Ukraine, she said, though likely acting out of concerns for his own political cover than Kyiv’s interests.

Ukrainian officials and U.S. lawmakers had urged the Biden administration to approve even a small number of Abrams tanks, arguing it would provide Berlin with the cover it needed to feel comfortable sending its own tanks.


Comparable battlefield

heavyweights

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank and the United States’ M1 Abrams boast similar measurements and capabilities; indeed, some of the similarities are deliberate, to ensure the tanks can cooperate on NATO’s battlefields.

Sources: Federation of American Scientists;

Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / THE WASHINGTON POST

Comparable battlefield heavyweights

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank and the United States’ M1 Abrams boast similar measurements and capabilities; indeed, some of the similarities are deliberate, to ensure the tanks can cooperate on NATO’s battlefields.

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / THE WASHINGTON POST

Comparable battlefield heavyweights

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank and the United States’ M1 Abrams boast similar measurements and capabilities; indeed, some of the similarities are deliberate, to ensure the tanks can cooperate on NATO’s battlefields.

120mm cannon

120mm cannon

About 70 tons

About 55 tons

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / THE WASHINGTON POST

Comparable battlefield heavyweights

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank and the United States’ M1 Abrams boast similar measurements and capabilities; indeed, some of the similarities are deliberate, to ensure the tanks can cooperate on NATO’s battlefields.

120mm cannon

120mm cannon

About 70 tons

About 55 tons

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / THE WASHINGTON POST

Another U.S. official said the United States was expected to order at least 31 Abrams tanks and eight support vehicles under the plan. They’ll be purchased using money from the congressionally provided Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, rather than pulled from the U.S. arsenal, as many other weapons sent to Ukraine have been, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

As recently as last week, though, senior U.S. officials insisted that the Abrams would be too burdensome for the Ukrainian military to operate and maintain.

“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Undersecretary of Defense Colin Kahl told reporters last week, after returning from a visit to Kyiv. “The Abrams is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train on.”

U.S. to give Ukraine advanced M1 tanks

Recent events on the battlefield have driven home the urgency of Ukraine’s need. On Wednesday, Ukrainian military spokesman Sergiy Cherevaty confirmed that Kyiv’s forces have withdrawn from the eastern town of Soledar after a fierce push by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group. Wagner claimed to capture the town more than a week ago but Ukraine had repeatedly denied those assertions.

The capture of the small salt mining town, which had a prewar population of about 10,000 is not of major strategic value, according to military experts. But Soledar is the first significant town taken by Russia since July. “After months of heavy fighting, including over the past weeks, the armed forces of Ukraine left and retreated along the outskirts to pre-prepared positions,” Cherevaty said. He declined to say precisely when the retreat occurred.

Western leaders have argued that heavy tanks could shift the balance of power on the battlefield. But Franz-Stefan Gady, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, questioned whether Germany’s Leopards would indeed shape short-term dynamics.

“At this stage, due in part to Germany delaying the decision, it is unlikely that the Leopard 2 will play a significant role in any spring offensive,” he said. “Will they make it in time? Will the crews be trained?”

There is a big logistics chain behind one of these tanks making it to the battleground — heavy transport, recovery vehicles, refuel vehicles — and that this will take time to set up, he said.

In that sense, the significance of the German decision “stems from its political implications — the fact that Germany is more deeply committed to this conflict,” he continued.

Russia’s strategy is to draw out the fighting and break Western support. Sending the Leopards shows Moscow that the “West’s support is going to continue no matter what,” said Gady.

Lamothe and DeYoung reported from Washington. Vanessa Guinan-Bank in Berlin and David Stern in Kyiv contributed to this report.




Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *