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Poland to Send German-Made Tanks to Ukraine Despite Berlin’s Hesitancy

FILE - A Polish Leopard 2PL tank fires during a Defender Europe 2022 military exercise of NATO troops near Orzysz, Poland, May 24, 2022.
FILE - A Polish Leopard 2PL tank fires during a Defender Europe 2022 military exercise of NATO troops near Orzysz, Poland, May 24, 2022.

Poland said Monday it will send its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, regardless of any objections from Berlin. Several European armies operate the tanks but require Germany’s approval to re-export them to Ukraine.

“We will apply for such consent [from Germany], but this is a secondary topic,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters. “Even if we do not get this consent in the end, as part of a small coalition — even if the Germans would not be in this coalition — we will still hand over our tanks together with others to Ukraine,” he added.

Morawiecki did not elaborate on which countries could be part of such a coalition. Lithuania and Finland have said they would be willing to send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but they have not indicated that they would be willing to do so against Germany’s wishes.

German pressure

Germany is under intense pressure from Ukraine and Western allies to send its highly regarded Leopard 2 tanks to aid Kyiv’s forces but is refusing to make a quick decision.

Following a meeting Friday in Ramstein, Germany, of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — an alliance of about 50 states giving military support to Kyiv — Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, explained his country’s hesitancy.

“The impression which sometimes arose that there is a united coalition— and that Germany is blocking it — is wrong,” Pistorius said. “There are good reasons for a delivery, and there are good reasons against it. And in light of the overall situation of the war, which has lasted nearly a year already, all pros and cons must be weighed very carefully,” Pistorius said.

Ukraine appeal

Ukraine says it urgently needs modern Western tanks to repel Russia’s invasion and launch a new offensive in the spring. In recent days its president has appealed to allies for more weapons.

“I am truly grateful to all of you for the weapons you have provided, every unit helps to save our people from terror. But time remains a Russian weapon,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the leaders gathered Friday in Ramstein, via video link from Kyiv. “We have to speed up. Time must become our common weapon, just like air defense and artillery, armored vehicles and tanks, which we are negotiating about with you and which, actually, will make the victory,” Zelenskyy said.

Britain last week confirmed plans to send 14 of its Challenger 2 main battle tanks. The United States and France have not ruled out sending Ukraine their main tanks, the Abrams and the Leclerc.

Germany’s Leopard 2 tank is seen as the most suited to the battlefield, partly owing to its relatively lower fuel consumption and limited Ukrainian supply lines. European armies have hundreds in their arsenals that could be rapidly deployed to Ukraine.

Domestic politics

Speaking Sunday, Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock — a member of the Green party, part of the ruling coalition — said her country would not prevent others from sending Leopard tanks: “For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked, we would not stand in the way,” Baerbock said.

Domestic political tensions between the ruling coalition partners are causing confusion, says analyst Benjamin Tallis of the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“[Baerbock’s statement] doesn’t actually equate to permission because of the national security considerations in this case. It is actually the chancellery — and so Olaf Scholz himself — who would have the final yes or no say on this. And as his new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, said on Friday, he has not decided yet,” Tallis told VOA.

Nuclear fears

Analysts say the Kremlin’s nuclear saber-rattling is causing concern in Berlin.

“The chancellery is enormously afraid of nuclear war, and they perceive that they are the prime target for that. I don’t know how this strange perception came about … I have a bit of an impression that Scholz has lost sight of the fact that Germany is actually a part of the NATO alliance,” Gustav Gressel, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Reuters.

Tallis agrees. “Russian propaganda has been targeting Germany in particular to try and sow this nuclear fear and try and make them more vulnerable to the kind of nuclear blackmail that now seems to be working.”

Unlike many of its Western allies, Tallis said Germany has not yet called for a complete Ukrainian victory over Russia. “It’s quite widely accepted now I think that should there be a decisive defeat for either side in this war, it will have a system-transforming effect. Germany … doesn’t seem up yet to the task of facing that level of change. I think there’s a nervousness about that as well,” he told VOA.