Berlin After the fundamental decision of the Western partners to also support Ukraine with battle tanks, the “coalition of the willing” is now being formed. Poland’s Deputy Defense Minister Wojciech Skurkiewicz said on Thursday that as soon as the Ukrainian soldiers have completed the training, Poland will hand over the promised Leopard 2 to Ukraine. That is a question of “several weeks”.
During a visit to the Altengrabow training ground, Federal Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) announced that the aim was for the promised Leopard company from Germany to be deployed in Ukraine by the end of March or April at the latest. Ukraine will thus receive the weapon systems that military experts believe it needs to repel the expected Russian spring offensive.
Praise comes from the most important NATO power, the USA. “Germany continues to be a strong ally of the United States and we are grateful for Germany’s role as one of the largest donors of aid to Ukraine,” America’s NATO Ambassador Julianne Smith told Handelsblatt. The provision of German Leopard tanks is another example of the “unwavering support and enduring commitment of NATO allies to Ukraine.”
For their part, the Americans are happy “that we can also contribute Abrams tanks, which will enable Ukraine to defend its territory,” Smith said.
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But after the long struggle over the tank decision, there is not only relief, but also frustration. Frustration that weeks of tugging have once again revealed how weak Europe is militarily. EU diplomats concede this, and there is even talk of a “disaster” behind closed doors.
Even the economically most powerful country in Europe, the Federal Republic, only dares to step out of cover in lockstep with the Americans – this behavior has “fulfilled all clichés” that exist in military circles about Germany, it is said. When it comes to questions of their own security, the Europeans are only able to act in conjunction with the USA. The dream of European sovereignty is being shattered by the realities of the Ukraine war.
The US government’s commitment to supply M1 Abrams main battle tanks was necessary to break the Leopard blockade. The US now wants to send 31 tanks, enough for a Ukrainian battalion. However, the Abrams will not be available for several months. On the other hand, the Leopard 2 tanks of several EU countries and the Challenger 2, which Britain has promised Kyiv, could be operational as early as March, Pistorius said.
Pistorius: “Anyone who is worried has my sympathy”
Poland and Germany each want to deliver 14 Leopard 2, Portugal four and Norway eight. Spain, Finland and the Netherlands have also pledged tanks. Pistorius also wanted to talk to Canada about participating in the Panzer Alliance on Thursday. Overall, Ukraine can expect to receive more than 100 Western main battle tanks in the next few months.
However, the Ukrainian military leadership had emphasized that at least 300 Western battle tanks would be required if new offensives were to be successful.
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The fact that Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) is now boasting about having forged a broad tank alliance is met with a shake of the head in Brussels. “The Chancellor’s actions have permanently weakened Germany’s ability to lead,” says MEP Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens), who has held many talks with politicians from Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, France and the USA. The chancellor’s hesitation for months had “seriously damaged Germany’s credibility with our partners and allies”.
During the visit to the troops, Pistorius said he never tires of emphasizing that the federal government has not hesitated. Negotiations have been made with the Allies, and that takes time. It is still right and important not to dare to go it alone. The defense minister also pointed out that the German population was divided on the battle tank issue. “Anyone who is worried has my sympathy,” emphasized Pistorius.
The US government is also making great efforts to counteract the impression that there has been a rift with the Germans in the tank debate. For President Biden, the Chancellor is a “strong voice for unity” among the western partners.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also wants the dispute to be forgotten. “The decision to send leopards to Ukraine is a big step in stopping Russia,” he tweeted. “Together we are stronger.” Poland had increased the pressure on the federal government with its announcement that it would, if necessary, deliver Leopard tanks without German approval.
Security policy expectations of Germany have been shattered
Nevertheless, as talks with diplomats make clear, trust has been lost. Americans’ expectations that Germany would show more initiative in security policy have been shattered. After almost three decades of disarmament, Europe is militarily even more dependent on the USA than it was during the Cold War. The Polish government, in turn, has drawn the wrath of the chancellor’s office with its constant jabs at Germany and its forays into the tank issue.
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Pistorius’ priority task now is to quickly fill the gap left by the transfer of initially 14 relatively modern Leopard 2A6s to the Bundeswehr. You’re in a “conflict of goals,” he said. “But we have to make a decision: it’s difficult for us to say to Ukraine that we’re stopping our help because there are temporary gaps for us.”
These are different tones than his predecessor Christine Lambrecht (SPD), who had always emphasized that the Bundeswehr should not be further weakened with a view to national and alliance defense.
The CSU deputy and head of the European People’s Party (EPP), Manfred Weber, called for a reorganization of armaments production in the EU in order to support Ukraine and to be able to fill gaps in their own stocks. Pistorius announced that he would hold talks with the arms industry “probably as early as next week”.
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