Berlin, Paris, Washington The new Federal Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) had been in office less than two hours when he appeared in front of the press with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Thursday. There are important things to discuss – “first of all, of course, the question of continued support for Ukraine.” The Federal Republic and the USA stand “shoulder to shoulder”, as shown by the delivery of armored personnel carriers, Patriot anti-aircraft systems and rocket launchers, said Pistorius.
Austin stressed that Germany remains one of the most important allies of the United States. On Friday, together with other countries in Ramstein, further support services for Ukraine will be discussed.
Neither Pistorius nor Austin mentioned the names Leopard or Abrams. These would be the battle tanks from German and American production, which military experts believe could bring about a decisive turnaround in the Ukraine war. But on this issue, Germany and the USA are apparently not yet shoulder to shoulder.
Austin had just landed in Berlin on Wednesday evening when media reports circulated about an offer from Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). Germany is ready to let Ukraine have Leopard tanks if the US in turn supplies Abrams.
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But Washington immediately objected. The M1 Abrams is a “very complicated” device, for example because it has a turbine drive instead of a diesel engine, said US Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl. Maintenance is not easy either. It is not about delivering “symbolically valuable” weapons, but material “that really helps Ukraine on the battlefield”.
Ball is back with Scholz
The ball is back in Scholz’s field. The Leopard would be operationally and logistically easier for the Ukrainians to handle. And there are numerous countries that want to supply it. Poland is one of them, Finland, and Spain has also signaled readiness. However, the federal government would have to agree, since the tanks come from German production.
But Scholz insists that he only wants to act in step with his allies, above all the USA. The Chancellor confirmed this on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He doesn’t want to be carried away by countries like Great Britain, which has already announced that it will deliver 14 Challenger main battle tanks.
Pistorius had called his French counterpart Sébastien Lecornu on Thursday before his meeting with Austin. Like other countries, Paris would welcome the delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
President Emmanuel Macron took the German government by surprise when he promised the Ukrainian armed forces AMX-10 RC reconnaissance tanks in early January. As a result, Berlin was under pressure and agreed to deliver armored personnel carriers to Kyiv, as did the USA.
However, the French government is reluctant to supply its own main battle tanks. Ukraine had asked for Leclerc main battle tanks, the French equivalent of the Leopard 2. Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said in a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday that the request is currently being considered. In Paris, however, people are skeptical about the delivery of the Leclerc to Ukraine.
>> Read here: Scholz can no longer prevent the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks – a comment
One reason given is that the maintenance of the more modern Leclerc is more complex, which could pose problems for the Ukrainian armed forces. Spare parts are only available to a limited extent, and there are also significantly more Leopard tanks than Leclerc tanks in stock in Europe.
German industry offers up to 100 main battle tanks for Ukraine
This is especially true when you include discarded equipment that is stockpiled by the industry. As the Handelsblatt learned from industry circles, in addition to the modern Leopard 2, Leopard 1 and the British model Challenger 1 could also be refurbished and handed over to Kyiv. This would have the advantage that the Bundeswehr would not have to give up any tanks from its own scarce stock.
Many observers had not expected the Challenger 1. The Rheinmetall group brings him into play, which according to the circles would buy and upgrade a high double-digit number of British tanks from Oman. The vehicles could be handed over to Ukraine later this year, a person familiar with the proceedings said.
The tanks are older than the successor model Challenger 2, which the British want to leave to Ukraine. However, both models would have the same main gun, which would make ammo supply and logistics easier.
In addition to the Challenger, Rheinmetall is also offering to supply the Leopard 1 and Leopard 2, the Bundeswehr’s standard weapon. From the older Leopard 1 model, 20 main battle tanks could be reequipped and sold this year and another 80 within 20 months.
The Flensburg armaments company FFG also has Leopard 1 in stock and could retrofit it for the Ukraine. It is unclear to what extent Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) – the main manufacturer of the Leopard 2 – could participate in a possible delivery. The company has so far remained silent on the matter.
With the Leopard 1 and the Challenger, the combat effectiveness of the Ukraine would be significantly increased, since these are superior to the Russian main battle tanks. In addition, another 100 Leopard 2 battle tanks could be added if the federal government gives its approval. To this end, several countries, including Finland, Spain and Poland, want to hand over battle tanks from their own stocks to Ukraine.
The possibilities of the Bundeswehr to hand over Leopard 2 are limited if the ability to defend the country and the alliance is not to be jeopardized. It currently has over 300 copies. However, Germany had offered the Czech Republic and Slovakia Leopard tanks as part of a so-called ring exchange.
Scholz apparently wants to attach conditions to Leopard delivery
Both countries hand over Soviet-made tanks to Ukraine and receive Leopards in return. The federal government could now try to convince the governments in Prague and Bratislava that the tanks actually intended for them should go to the Ukraine and then be supplied to them later. Germany could then provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2s relatively quickly.
>> Read here: All current developments in the Ukraine war in the Newsblog
Even with the promised Marder armored personnel carriers, the federal government proceeded in a similar way with Greece. Athens is waiting longer for the tanks promised as part of a ring exchange so that Germany can keep its delivery promise of delivering up to 40 Marders to Ukraine by the end of March.
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