Germany is to supply 14 Leopard main battle tanks to Kyiv, a significant ramping up of western military aid that was condemned by Russia and prompted cheers throughout Ukraine.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the Bundestag that Germany would “always be out ahead when it comes to supporting Ukraine”, dismissing criticism that he had hesitated too long in heeding Kyiv’s calls for help.
Germany would, officials said, join with other European countries to create two tank battalions of the German-made Leopard 2s, considered one of the world’s best and most advanced fighting vehicles. That equates to about 90 tanks.
As a first step, Berlin will provide a company with 14 Leopard 2A6 tanks, from stocks held by the Bundeswehr, the German army.
Scholz’s decision comes after months of criticism of his reluctance to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine, which has been asking for German tanks since last March.
Speaking at a question-and-answer session with Scholz in the Bundestag on Wednesday, Jürgen Hardt, foreign affairs spokesman for the opposition Christian Democrats, said the chancellor had caused “massive damage” to Germany’s relations with its allies, particularly the Baltic states, which have long been pressing Berlin to provide tanks.
Scholz defended his approach, saying that when it came to military aid for Kyiv, Germany must always act in concert with its allies. “It would be a mistake, a bad and a grave mistake, to proceed alone in such a matter,” he said. “We have to co-ordinate closely with others.”
The chancellor said that whenever Germany had stepped up its arms supplies to Ukraine — providing howitzers, rocket launchers, air defence systems and infantry fighting vehicles — it had only done so “after our most important alliance partners in North America and here in the EU had acted in a similar manner”.
He also said Germany would stand by Ukraine “but must at the same time prevent the war escalating into a war between Russia and Nato”. Many in Berlin had feared that sending tanks would increase the risk of a direct confrontation between Russia and the transatlantic alliance.
In practical terms, Germany’s caution translated into a policy of not sending Leopards unless allies — first and foremost the US — sent tanks as well. But this led to an impasse: the Biden administration did not want to provide US-made M1 Abrams, saying the heavy gas guzzlers would be too hard for Ukrainian forces to maintain and were less…