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Germany hints at approving Leopard tanks for Ukraine, but transfer still some way off

EU foreign ministers in Brussels were left frustrated as Germany maintained its confusing and stubborn stance over sending its coveted Leopard tanks to Ukraine, despite warnings that this would put Berlin’s global and European reputation on the line. 

While German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, told her EU counterparts she would not stand in the way of other countries sending their German-made Leopards to Ukraine, sources in Berlin warned that any decision to lift re-export controls would still have to be cleared by the country’s Federal Security Council.

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The refusal to not only send some of its own tanks but even to authorise the re-export of Leopards in other arsenals has exasperated officials across the EU. They have expressed bafflement that while Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, is so ready to speak about Germany doing everything it can to support Ukraine, he cannot countenance giving the country the tools to drive the Russians out. 

Poland, which has a fleet of Leopards, appears to be pushing ahead anyway, with a contingent seen on a transporter train headed for the Ukraine border.

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FILE PHOTO: Soldiers of the Swiss Army are seen in a Leopard 2 tank, taking part in the military exercise "Pilum", as they drive on the A1 motorway near Othmarsingen, Switzerland November 28, 2022. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo
Germany must technically approve exports of its tanks from third party nations, however Poland has said it will go ahead and export the tanks to Ukraine anyway (Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters)

Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said that while his government would seek permission from Berlin to send Leopards to Ukraine, consent was of “secondary importance”, adding: “Even if we did not get this approval, we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine.”

The Netherlands, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden have all indicated they are willing to send some of their Leopards to Ukraine, once they have cle]arance from Berlin.

EU foreign ministers also agreed to allocate another €500m (£439m) for military aid for Ukraine during their meeting on Monday.

Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, is due to meet the new German defence minister, Boris Pistorius, in Berlin on Tuesday, with the tanks like to be the top topic.

The Leopard 2, with its 120-millimetre gun, thick armour and diesel-powered 75km-per-hour top speed makes it one of the toughest tanks in the world – and some 2,000 of them are thought to be in use by 13 countries across Europe.

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Berlin must approve any countries seeking to re-export them to Ukraine, and it has so far resisted calls to do so.

Mr Scholz’s rationale is hard to follow. He has indicated that he would only send the tanks if other allies send heavy armour too.

However, in recent weeks, France has agreed to send its AMX10-RCs light battle tanks, while the US is sending its Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Nor did the issue come up last week when Mr Pistorius met with his US opposite, Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin.

Mr Scholz may well agree, not just because of pressure from his EU allies and Ukraine, but also because of his more assertive coalition partners pushing him, which includes the free-market liberals and the Greens, like Ms Baerbock.

Even if he does, his obstinacy over the past few weeks will have sullied Germany’s reputation.

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