Russia has warned that ‘nothing good’ will come of German tanks being sent to the front lines in Ukraine after Poland formally requested permission from Olaf Scholz to supply Leopard 2 vehicles to the war effort.
A bitter row has splintered the West and Germany over the decision to deliver German-made tanks to Kyiv, with Chancellor Scholz fearful that the Western supply of modern weaponry could drag NATO into the war and spark Kremlin repercussions.
The cowardly leader is facing intense pressure from Ukraine and NATO allies to agree to the delivery but he has so far remained unmoved.
Today, it appears the West is moving towards an agreement, as Berlin’s defence minister Boris Pistorius gave the green light for allies to start training Ukrainian forces on the German-made Leopard tanks.
Polish soldiers are pictured in German-made Leopard 2 tanks which Olaf Scholz has been blocking from being delivered to Ukraine
NATO general secretary Jens Stoltenberg added after a meeting with Pistorius that a decision would be made ‘soon’ on the much-needed supply.
Under German law, the government needs to give permission before countries such as Poland or Finland could commit to re-exporting German-made tanks such as the requested Leopard 2.
Ukraine has been desperately pleading for the delivery which they believe could turn the tide of the war, instead of their troops relying on Soviet-era tanks.
Today, Poland’s defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak confirmed: ‘The Germans have already received our request for consent to sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
‘I am also calling on the German side to join our coalition of countries supporting Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks.’
The request comes after Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock on Sunday said Germany would not stand in the way if Warsaw asked to send Leopard tanks.
Ratcheting up the tension, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, ‘these deliveries would bring nothing good to the future relationship’ between Berlin and Moscow, adding: ‘They will leave a lasting mark.’
While scores of nations have pledged military hardware for Ukraine, Kyiv is clamouring for the more powerful Leopard tanks, seen as key to punching through enemy lines.
The chancellor is holding back from supplying the tanks or allowing other NATO countries to do so through fear of Russian retaliation
A view of a part of the convoy as the mobile defence surface-to-air missile systems, Patriot, are transported to Poland yesterday
Pistorius said today that he had ‘expressly encouraged partner countries that have Leopard tanks that are ready for deployment to train Ukrainian forces on these tanks’.
‘I expect a decision to be made shortly,’ he added ahead of a meeting with Stoltenberg in Berlin.
Stoltenberg welcomed the ‘clear message’ from the minister, ‘because after a decision has been taken on the delivery on battle tanks, it will take some time to… make them ready’ and to train Ukrainian soldiers to use them.
He added that he expected a decision ‘soon’.
‘We must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster,’ Stoltenberg said.
Moscow has shown no signs of changing course in its invasion, he added.
‘We have no indication that President Putin has changed his goals… The only way to lasting peace is to make it clear to Putin that he will not win on the battlefield,’ he said.
Pistorius had emphasised earlier that Berlin was not opposed to Leopard deliveries but had simply not made a decision yet.
‘We are supporting Ukraine not to lose this war, to win it against Russia,’ he said in an interview with the broadcaster ZDF.
‘And to that end, Germany is doing more than practically any other ally except the US.’
A Russian Army self-propelled howitzer Akatsiya fires toward Ukrainian troops at an undisclosed location
Asked when Germany was planning to make a decision on Leopard tanks, Pistorius said it was not up to him.
‘This decision will be made in the chancellery,’ he said.
He also defended Scholz against accusations of dithering on whether to approve the delivery of Leopards.
‘Taking the lead does not mean blindly going ahead,’ he said. ‘And if the decision takes another day or two, then that’s just the way it is.’
The comments come after withering criticism of Scholz from an MP and former minister who served in Angela Merkel’s government.
Norbert Roettgen, an MP and former chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, lashed out at his chancellor, accusing him of ‘stubbornness’ over an issue which could help defeat the Kremlin’s invading forces.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘There is a deep split within the government: the Chancellor and the SDP on the one side who are fiercely resisting delivering adequate and very much needed weapons like the Leopard 2 to Ukraine in order to make sure Ukraine can win, and the other two coalition partners, the Greens and the Liberals, they have been very much in favour of delivering weapons for quite some time.
‘But they are swallowing the resistance of the chancellor. In the Bundestag there has been a clear majority for the delivery of heavy weapons for months. Since summer we have been calling for that.’
Ukrainian soldiers are seen riding on a T-72 Soviet-era tank, used widely in the ongoing conflict, in the Donetsk region, January 20
When asked if Scholz will change his mind, Roettgen replied: ‘I do expect him, I have to be honest, I was personally absolutely sure that he would not let the Ramstein meeting happen without taking a decision.
‘I publicly made this speculation, I turned out to be wrong about Scholz’s stubbornness.’
Last week, discussions were held about the delivery of weapons from the West at the Ramstein airbase in southern Germany, but Scholz still held firm.
German defence group Rheinmetall said it could delivery 29 Leopard 2A4 tanks by April/May and a further 22 of the same model around the end of 2023 or early 2024, if Scholz gives the word.
It could also supply 88 older Leopard 1 tanks, a spokesman said.
European nations agreed to spend another 500 million euros to arm Kyiv in the latest boost to the multi-billion-dollar drive to help Ukraine push back Russian forces.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Sunday said Germany would not stand in the way if Warsaw asked to send Leopard tanks.
‘We will seek this approval,’ Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters Monday.
‘Even if we didn’t get such an approval in the end, we will give our tanks to Ukraine anyway – within a small coalition of countries, even if Germany isn’t in that coalition’, Morawiecki said.
Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller later told state television that a formal request was ‘an important gesture and we will certainly carry it out in the coming days’.
Poland announced earlier this month that it was ready to deliver 14 Leopard tanks to Kyiv but was waiting for a clear statement from Berlin authorising the transfer.
Berlin has insisted on the need for all allies to work together.
Scholz’s spokesman reiterated that stance Monday, saying the government ‘does not rule out’ the tanks’ transfer but added: ‘It has not yet been decided.’
German chancellor Olaf Scholz stands in front of a Leopard 2 tank in October last year (file photo)
Roettgen added today: ‘This is not a new debate we are having in Germany, we have been having this for months, because this situation has been very clear for a very long time and [Scholz] has been blocking it effectively for months, at least since summer.
‘If the international pressure will get so strong, so heavy, that the isolation of Germany would be visible to everybody else, this would be an international pressure which perhaps would make him change the course, this is what we all hope for.
‘I think the international pressure, the war crimes, the effect and the difference German weapons could do in this war together with other European deliveries, around about 300 tanks will be necessary to make a real difference, will become so big and irresistible that finally, eventually the German chancellor will change course but it will have taken too long, but it will happen eventually.’
Haunted by its post-World War II guilt, Germany has always acted carefully when it comes to conflicts.
German laws require countries that purchase its weapons to ask for approval before handing them over.
This is to prevent German-made armaments from being used in conflict zones against Germany’s interests.
On Friday at Ramstein, some 50 nations agreed to provide Kyiv with billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware, including armoured vehicles and munitions needed to push back Russian forces.
European foreign ministers on Monday agreed to spend an extra 500 million euros to arm Ukraine, diplomats said. This takes the total common EU spending to 3.6 billion euros.
Russia’s parliament officials have warned that nations arming Ukraine risk their own destruction, which would lead to ‘a global catastrophe’.
State Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin said: ‘Supplies of offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime would lead to a global catastrophe.’
Ukraine says the heavily armoured Leopard battle tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive expected in coming months, and could give them the firepower they need to regain the momentum.
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