Two major partners within the NATO military alliance, the U.S. and Germany, could soon be supplying Ukraine with modern battle tanks after all.
According to reports gathered by Der Spiegel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is poised to both send Germany’s own Leopard tanks to the Ukrainian front lines and allow other Western countries to export theirs.
Only last Friday, during a NATO summit in Ramstein, Germany showed itself apprehensive about letting Leopard tanks be sent to Ukraine, saying it would only do so if the U.S. sent tanks as well.
Indeed, it seems Berlin got its wish. The Der Spiegel article, published on Tuesday evening, January 24th, coincided with a Reuters report claiming that two anonymous U.S. government officials had disclosed that the U.S. would supply dozens of its M1 Abrams battle tanks.
While yet unconfirmed, Chancellor Scholz may have received guarantees from the U.S. that it would send its tanks, which then persuaded Berlin to follow suit.
Previously, the U.S. government had thought better of such a course of action, citing the Abrams’ heavy fuel consumption and maintenance challenges. The German-made Leopards are, however, viewed as the best all-round candidate; available in large numbers, they are said to be easy to deploy as well as maintain.
It is not yet known exactly how many such tanks Ukraine will be receiving from Germany. According to Der Spiegel, at least 14 of the A6—the second most modern variant of the tank—will initially come from the Bundeswehr’s own stockpile. After that, more may follow from stocks held by weapons manufacturers such as Rheinmetall.
According to Der Spiegel, “several Scandinavian countries” have already expressed their willingness to gift their Leopards to Ukraine. Poland, perhaps the most staunchly anti-Russian partner within the NATO alliance, has already been forceful in its desire to do so.
On Tuesday, Poland’s defense minister said that Germany had received his country’s official request to re-export Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Germany’s approval, then, might come as early as today, Wednesday, January 25th.
Through its decision, Germany de facto breaks whatever nominal ties it still had with the Kremlin—Russia’s experience of German tanks on its soil during WWII is still well-remembered in the country.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said as much on Tuesday: “Such shipments,” he warned, “do not bode well for the future of [Russian-German] relations.” While these were “already at a rather low point,” they would, “undoubtedly, leave an unavoidable mark for the future of these relations,” he said.
Whether or not Ukraine’s military should be bolstered with modern battle tanks had long been a source of debate among NATO allies. Ukraine’s western partners feared this would only further escalate relations with Russia, bringing matters dangerously close to open conflict.
Recently, this debate has only intensified. In the last few weeks, Ukrainian forces suffered multiple setbacks in the Donetsk Oblast region. For six months, Russian forces had besieged the Ukraine-held town of Bakhmut, which exacted heavy losses from the defenders. Now, the town faces encirclement following the mercenary Wagner Group’s capture of the northern town of Soledar two weeks ago, and last Thursday, the organization’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed it had taken the town of Klischivka, which lies to its south.
The situation has become so dire that U.S. and Western officials have advised Kyiv to pull out of Bakhmut and concentrate on a potential offensive in the south.
Indeed, since last week, Russian forces might have been laying the groundwork for this maneuver. In Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhia region, they have been shelling the towns of Orikhiv, south of the regional capital and important industrial center Zaporizhzhya, and Huliaipole, which lies further to its east.
In light of these developments, and with a new Russian offensive expected to be launched soon, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government had been pleading for as much military assistance as its western backers are willing to give.
Modern battle tanks are especially sought-after. Earlier this month, Ukraine’s Commander-in-Chief, General Valeriy Zaluzhny, stated the country would need at least 300 tanks, among various other offensive weapons, to be able to drive the Russians out.