Germany would not stand in the way if Poland wants to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Germany’s foreign minister said, signalling a possible breakthrough for Ukraine as it tries to bolster its forces ahead of an expected new Russian offensive.
Eleven months after Russia invaded its southern neighbour, the fighting is centred on the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s east, where Russia’s Wagner mercenaries and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a battle of attrition.
Russia’s defence ministry said for the second straight day on Sunday (22 January) that its forces were improving their positions in Ukraine’s southern region of Zaporizhzhia, though a Ukrainian military spokesperson told the state broadcaster the situation there was “difficult” but stable.
Reuters was not able to independently verify battlefield accounts.
Ukrainian officials have been calling on Western allies to supply them with the modern German-made Leopard tanks for months but Germany has held back from sending them or allowing other NATO countries to do so.
No decision on supplying Leopards was reached during a meeting of the Western allies in the Ramstein air base in Germany on Friday, although pledges were given for large amounts of other weapons, including air defence systems and other tank models.
Leopard tanks, which are held by an array of NATO countries but whose transfer to Ukraine requires Berlin’s approval, are seen by defence experts as the most suitable for Ukraine. Such tanks are available in many European countries in large numbers.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrat party is traditionally sceptical of military involvements and wary of sudden moves that could cause Moscow to further escalate.
But in an apparent shift in Germany’s position, foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said her government would not block Poland if it were to send its Leopard 2 tanks without German approval.
“For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked we would not stand in the way,” she told France’s LCI TV, when asked about her government’s reaction to any such Polish decision.
Baerbock’s remarks appeared to go further than Scholz’s comments at a summit in Paris earlier on Sunday that all decisions on weapons deliveries would be made in coordination with allies, including the United States.
Ukraine says the heavily armoured battle tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive expected in the coming months.
But Germany has appeared to have tied any such contribution to a US move to send its Abrams tanks, something American officials have said they are reluctant to do because the vehicles are complicated to maintain.