Germany authorizes Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine; US promises M1 Abrams


BERLIN — The German government announced plans on Wednesday to deliver 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow other countries to send theirs, ending months of debate among Western allies and potentially helping to shift the balance of the battlefield.

The Biden administration is also expected to announce on Wednesday that it will do so sent the US M1 Abrams main battle tank, though probably at least until the fall, said a senior U.S. official familiar with the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Washington is expected to send at least 30.

In Europe, the goal is to rapidly assemble two Leopard tank battalions — equivalent to about 80 tanks — for Ukraine, the German government said in a statement. As a first step, Germany will provide a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from the Bundeswehr stockpile. Other European allies will also provide tanks.

Ukrainian authorities rely on the Leopard 2, which are fast, relatively easy to operate and plentiful in Europe, to help their forces gain an advantage on the battlefield. It is not clear when the German tanks may be delivered.

For Ukraine, what is so special about the German Leopard 2 tanks?

Berlin has long resisted calls to send tanks without acting in tandem with allies, saying it does not want to be seen as a direct participant in the war, drawing the potential for a retaliatory strike from Russia. In recent weeks, German officials have been more emphatic connecting any tank dispatch solution of a similar move by the US.

But intense international pressure – and Washington’s apparent reversal of position on sending its battle tanks – appears to have provided the impetus.

“We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in the statement.

As the manufacturer of the Leopard 2, one of the most widely used tanks in Europe, Germany held the key to the entire package of tanks prepared for delivery to Ukraine, as re-exports require Berlin’s approval. Poland and a number of other European NATO members have indicated they are ready to send Leopard 2s. Finland, Greece, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey own at least 100 of them.

“The decision to launch and deliver the Leopard 2 was difficult but inevitable,” Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, Chairwoman of the German Parliament’s Defense Committee tweeted. “This is redemptive news for battered and brave Ukraine.”

European allies had hoped to announce a package of Leopards at a meeting on Ukraine at Ramstein Air Base in Germany last week. But Berlin’s new defense minister said Germany needed more time to make a “careful” decision and assess its stockpiles.

While Germany is stalling, Poland, which plans to send a company of Leopards or 14 tanks, has threatened to do so with or without Berlin’s permission. In Tuesday, Poland has formally requested German permission for re-exports, increasing pressure on Berlin to make a decision.

Senior national security advisers from Germany, France, Britain and the United States will also meet Wednesday in Washington to discuss Ukraine. Britain has said it will send a small number of its Challenger 2 main battle tanks.

Agreeing to send the Leopards is a big step towards Ukraine ending the war “by winning it,” said Norbert Roethgen, a Christian Democrat parliamentarian and foreign policy expert. But it was a “disastrous signal” that Germany rejected European action on tanks without American input, he said tweeted.

“Scholz successfully pressured the Americans on the condition that they deliver only together with the US,” he added. “Washington won’t soon forget this.”

The Pentagon spokesman said on January 24 that the US will support Ukraine’s security requirements after President Biden decided to send M1 Abrams tanks. (Video: US Department of Defense)

Ukrainian officials and US lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to approve even a small number of Abrams tanks, arguing that it would give Berlin the cover it needs to feel comfortable sending its own tanks.

Another US official said the United States is expected to order at least 31 Abrams tanks and eight support vehicles under the plan. They will be purchased with money from the congressionally appropriated Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, rather than being withdrawn from the U.S. arsenal, as were many other weapons sent to Ukraine, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

As recently as last week, however, high-ranking US officials insisted that the Abrams would be too burdensome for the Ukrainian military to operate and maintain.

“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Deputy Defense Secretary Colin Kahl told reporters last week, after returning from a visit to Kyiv. “Abrams is a very sophisticated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train.”

The addition of more advanced tanks to Ukraine’s military raises questions about how the United States or its allies might train Ukrainian forces to use them and incorporate them into battlefield formations with other recently provided Western equipment.

Polish officials said last week that they plan to begin training Ukrainians on Leopards within days.

The US will give Ukraine modern M1 tanks

Another possibility could be the training of a larger number of Ukrainian forces at the Grafenwoehr training ground in the Bavarian province of Germany. The US facility, the largest of its kind in Europe, began hosting a battalion of more than 600 Ukrainian soldiers this month to learn how to incorporate artillery, infantry fighting vehicles and other Western weapons into “combined” warfare to went on the offensive. The facility is also used for tank training.

The Leopard, at about 55 tons, is slightly smaller than the more than 65-ton Abrams. The German tank runs on the ubiquitous diesel fuel, while the Abrams has a multi-fuel turbine engine that typically runs on JP-8 jet fuel, but can accept other types.

Lamothe and DeYoung reported from Washington. Vanessa Guinan-Bank in Berlin contributed.

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