PARIS, Jan 22 (Reuters) – Germany’s foreign minister said on Sunday her government would not stand in the way if Poland wanted to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, in a possible breakthrough for Kyiv, which wants the tanks to fight a Russian invasion.
Ukrainian authorities are calling on Western allies to supply them modern tanks of German production for months, but Berlin has so far refrained from sending them or allowing other NATO countries to do so.
Asked what would happen if Poland went ahead and sent its Leopard 2 tanks without Germany’s approval, Analena Berbock said on French TV LCI: “At the moment the question has not been asked, but if we are asked, we will not interfere.” “
Her remarks appeared to go further than German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s comments at a summit in Paris earlier on Sunday that all decisions on arms deliveries would be made in coordination with allies, including the United States.
Germany was under intense pressure to field Leopards in Ukraine. But Scholz’s Social Democratic Party is traditionally skeptical of military intervention and wary of sudden moves that could prompt Moscow to escalate further.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on Sunday he expected a decision on the tanks soon, although he sounded a note of caution.
Pistorius told ARD television that Germany would not make a hasty decision because the government had to consider many factors, including the implications at home for the security of the German population.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeated his long-standing request for the tanks at his Sunday meeting with former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was visiting Kyiv.
“We need more weapons: tanks, planes, long-range missiles,” Zelensky said, according to a statement on his website.
Ukraine says the heavily armored Western battle tanks will give Ukrainian ground forces more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive that Kyiv expects in the near future. It will also help Ukraine regain some of the territory that fell to Russia.
After the summit in Paris, Scholz told a press conference that all arms deliveries to Ukraine had so far been carried out in close coordination with Western partners. “We will do this in the future,” he said.
Speaking at the same press conference, French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine.
Macron said sending tanks should not escalate the situation, should take into account training time for Ukrainians to be effective and should not jeopardize France’s own security.
“As for the Leclercs, I asked the army minister to work on it, but nothing is ruled out,” Macron said, adding that the move would have to be coordinated with allies such as Germany in the coming days and weeks.
German sources they told Reuters they would allow German-made tanks to be sent to Ukraine to help defend it against Russia if the United States agreed to send its own tanks. But U.S. officials said President Joe Biden’s administration was not ready to send its own tanks, including the M1 Abrams.
The Kremlin spokesman said on Friday that Western countries were supplying Ukraine with additional tanks will not change the course of the conflict and that they would add to the problems of the Ukrainian people.
Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Lee Thomas; Additional reporting by Tom Sims, Lydia Kelly and Humeira Pamuk; Editing by David Holmes, Andrew Havens and Diane Craft
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