Germany hesitated before allowing Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine | War news of Russia and Ukraine

It took time, threats and a lot of embarrassment, but in the 48th week of the war, Germany joined its allies in pledging its prized main battle tank to Ukraine to fight the Russians.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Wednesday that Berlin would send a troop – about 14 – of Leopards to Kyiv and allow other countries that own them to do the same.

The tanks should help Ukraine in a new counter-offensive or repel a renewed Russian offensive – whichever comes first.

“Spring and early summer [March-August in Europe] will be decisive in the war. If the major Russian offensive planned for now fails, it will be the downfall of Russia and Putin,” said the deputy head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, Major General Vadym Skibitskyi.

Although the number of tanks is far less than what Ukraine requested, Germany agreed only after several days of pressure from its allies, who made it clear that Berlin was isolated on the issue.

Western governments have generally been careful not to escalate conflicts by providing weapons only when necessary.

Leopard 2 interactive

On January 14, the United Kingdom broke the taboo on heavy armor, saying it would send a company of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged other allies to send aid. The pressure for tanks fell on Germany because the Leopard is the most massive battle tank in Europe, with some 2,000 pieces in 13 countries.

But Germany refused to send its own tanks or give others permission to re-export theirs – a necessary legal step.

“Germany does not want to be singled out as the country that sent the heaviest assault weapons to fight against the Russians. It will certainly play into the narrative of the second German invasion of Russia,” said George Pagoulatos, director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, a think tank in Athens, referring to the Nazi invasion of Russia during World War II.

However, the ruling style of the German chancellor was partly to blame, said Minna Alander, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Relations.

“There seems to be this problem that Scholz only listens to his circle of long-time advisers, and in his own echo chamber, they seem to have decided that this is the way to go – to be calm, sober, not allow yourself to be pushed into anything,” he said. Alander for Al Jazeera.

Apologies, apologies

Some of the German arguments seemed desperate. At a meeting of the Contact Group for Ukraine in the German city of Ramstein last week, where 50 countries gathered to pledge military aid, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told distrustful allies that he had just ordered a stockpile of Leopards to assess their availability.

Business Insider reported that his predecessor, Christine Lambrecht, had banned such a review, fearing that the mere existence of the document could pressure Chancellor Scholz to act.

But the Spiegel report revealed that a Bundeswehr Leopard inventory was taken in mid-2022, showing that at least 19 tanks were immediately available to Ukraine.

In addition, German military contractor Rheinmetall said it could deliver 88 older Leopard 1 tanks in April 2022, a month after Ukraine requested them, and this week Rheinmetall said it could deliver an additional 29 newer Leopard 2A4 tanks by April .

Ukraine started the war with about 900 battle tanks, according to the RUSI report, but has suffered attrition and now needs hundreds, not dozens, of replacements.

In an interview with the Economist in December, Ukraine’s top general Valery Zaluzhny said he needed 300 tanks, 600-700 infantry fighting vehicles and 500 howitzers to help his forces push back Russian forces.

European Council President Charles Michel told the Ukrainian parliament that he supports longer-range weapons and tanks from the West.

“You need more. More air defense systems, more long-range missiles and ammunition, and most of all, you need tanks. Right now,” Michel said.

Germany’s problems complicate Ukraine’s struggle

Germany suffered economic damage from the war, Pagoulatos said.

“German industrial competitiveness, based on cheap energy imports from Russia and good economic relations with Russia, has been dealt a terrible blow,” he told Al Jazeera.

But the country has also lost its political leadership role in northeastern Europe, whose EU accession it pushed for and whose economy it helped develop, Pagoulatos said.

“This is quite self-destructive for Germany because it ends up doing what other Europeans ask it to do … but it does it too late and after it has been beaten in a public debate,” Pagoulatos said.

After Ramstein, the foreign ministers of the three Baltic countries called on Germany to immediately send tanks to Ukraine – a sign of how far Germany’s position in Europe has fallen.

Polish Foreign Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he could ignore German re-export permits and send the tanks to Ukraine anyway.

Consent is of secondary importance here, either we will get that consent quickly or we will do the right thing ourselves,” he said.

A week earlier, Polish President Andrzej Duda said he planned to build a coalition of those willing to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine – effectively usurping Germany’s role.

Observers saw venal motives at work. German lawmakers “gave strategic priority to long-term relations with Russia,” wrote Oxford University historian Timothy Garton Ash.

St Andrews professor of strategy Phillips O’Brien called it “a rather pathetic desire to remain in Russian favor in the post-war world”.

Germany may have stood its ground in Ramstein, but its resistance crumbled over the weekend as the Green Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, distanced itself from Scholz’s Social Democrats.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told France’s TV1 that Germany “will not stand in the way” of other countries sending their Leopard tanks, contradicting Pistorius’ remarks in Ramstein that such requests would have to go through lengthy procedures.

Germany claimed at Ramstein that it could send one Leopard for every Abrams battle tank the US sent. Military experts say the Abrams is more expensive to run and more difficult to train.

“This appears to have been Scholz’s original idea,” Alander said. “The rationale is that it’s a fair deal because Germany depends on the American nuclear umbrella, and Germany is much closer to combat.”

The US administration of Joe Biden approved 31 Abrams tanks for Ukraine on Wednesday. But now the Ukrainian military will have to train on three new main battle tank designs – the British Challenger, the German Leopard and the American Abrams – all to convince Germany that it will not suffer excessive Russian criticism.

Momentum to send heavy armor to Ukraine began building in the second half of last year, after it became clear that the Ukrainian armed forces needed it to continue their successful counter-offensives in Kherson and Kharkiv – if they were to break through entrenched Russian positions.

The European Council on Foreign Relations proposed sending 90 tanks to Ukraine, with the EU paying to replace the older 2A4 and 2A5 models sent to Ukraine with the newer 2A7. This modernization could in turn encourage Germany to rebuild its largely battered Bundeswehr.

Leopard 2 tank
Leopard 2 tank participates in training in Munster, Lower Saxony [File: Morris Mac Matzen/Reuters]

Weapons go to Ukraine

Ukraine also received other significant promises during the past week.

Ahead of the Ramstein meeting, nine EU members met in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, to pledge an “unprecedented package of donations” to Ukraine.

“We pledge to work together to deliver an unprecedented array of donations, including main battle tanks, heavy artillery, anti-aircraft defenses, ammunition and infantry fighting vehicles for the defense of Ukraine,” the countries said in the so-called Tallinn Declaration.

Poland said it would provide Ukraine with more Soviet T-72 tanks and 42 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles by March, as well as step up training.

Denmark said it would send Ukraine 19 Cesar self-propelled howitzers, infantry fighting vehicles and the Archer artillery system, among other things.

Sweden previously announced an arms package worth $419 million. Great Britain would send 600 Brimstone anti-tank missiles.

The US has pledged to withdraw $2.5 billion in weapons, including plenty of ammunition, 59 Bradley fighting vehicles in addition to the promised 50 and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers.

‘Throwing soldiers like cannonballs’

Ukraine will probably need all it can get. His troops were fighting hard to retake Novoselivske in Lugansk on January 19 and were waiting for reinforcements to put pressure on neighboring Kuzemivka. The Ukrainian advance looked like an attempt to create a salient point north of Svatov, from which to surround the Russian-occupied city.

But further south, in the Donetsk region, Russian forces advanced around Bakhmut, capturing the towns of Soledar and Klishchiivka and threatening lines of communication.

“The fall of Bakhmut would have consequences for the entire line of Ukrainian defense. They say that Russia is now throwing soldiers like cannonballs because it doesn’t mind the losses there,” Spiegel quoted a German intelligence report as saying.

Ukraine has less manpower than Russia in these grueling battles. Ukraine’s military is losing three-digit numbers of soldiers every day, Germany’s BND intelligence service told a group of Bundestag lawmakers in a secret meeting last week – a reminder that delays in arms deliveries are measured in lives lost.

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