Athens Ten days ago, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov issued a joint appeal for deliveries of Leopard 2 main battle tanks. The two ministers called on the NATO states as well as Sweden and Finland to form a joint “international battle tank coalition”. Greece was one of the countries they named as possible suppliers in their call for proposals.
So far, Athens has not seen any immediate need for action, especially since Berlin has also hesitated. But with the German government’s decision to supply Leopard main battle tanks, Greece is now also in demand. With 853 specimens, the country maintains the largest Leopard tank army in Europe. Of these, 500 are of the older Leopard 1 type, 183 of the Leopard 2A4 type and 170 of the Leopard 2A6.
But the government in Athens has so far kept a low profile. The most important reason, however, is not wartime opponents of Russia. It is the war threats from neighboring Turkey. In view of the tensions with Ankara, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis does not want to weaken his own defense. You need the tanks yourself, it is said in government circles.
Germany wants to send a company of Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks to Ukraine. That would be 14 tanks. The US has pledged to deliver 31 Abrams main battle tanks. But the Ukraine is calling for much larger numbers. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made that clear. “It’s not about five or ten or 15 tanks, the need is greater,” Zelensky said in a TV speech on Tuesday evening.
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At the same time, Germany and the USA want to forge a coalition to provide more tanks for Ukraine. The aim is to quickly put together two tank battalions, said government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit on Wednesday in Berlin.
Tensions with Turkey are stronger than ever
That would be about 90 tanks. There were preliminary talks about this last week at the meeting in Ramstein. Twelve countries are said to have agreed to provide around 100 Leopard tanks, the US television broadcaster ABC reported, citing Ukrainian sources.
Athens has not yet made a commitment, insiders report. Greece’s Leopard tanks are mainly based in the north of the country, near the border with Turkey. The relationship with the neighboring country is currently more tense than it has been for a long time. The Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening the NATO partner with ever new war threats for months.
Erdogan lays claim to Greek Aegean islands such as Rhodes, Kos and Lesbos. “We could suddenly come overnight,” he warns the Greeks. Recently, Erdogan has repeatedly threatened rocket attacks on the Greek capital, Athens.
Against the background of this threat, Prime Minister Mitsotakis can hardly afford to hand over even a single Leopard to Ukraine. Elections are expected to take place in Greece in three months, in which Mitsotakis hopes to defend his absolute majority.
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That’s why the government doesn’t want to show any weaknesses when it comes to national defence. Above all, Ukraine has a need for tanks of the newer type 2A6. But Greece certainly cannot do without them, according to government circles.
Greece has a need for modernization of its older Leopard 2 types anyway and has been conducting negotiations with the manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) for some time. For Prime Minister Mitsotakis, deliveries to the Ukraine would at best be politically justifiable if the main battle tanks were gradually replaced by more modern equipment.
This was the case with the delivery of 40 Soviet BMP-1 armored personnel carriers to Ukraine, which was agreed last year. In 1993, Greece had received the tanks, which were almost 30 years old at the time, from the stocks of the GDR People’s Army at a price of 50,000 Deutschmarks.
Last year, the federal government promised to replace the BMP-1 with 40 German Marder infantry fighting vehicles as part of the ring exchange. But only 20 of them have arrived in Greece. The exchange falters because Germany cannot supply enough martens. This led to upsets in Athens. Media close to the opposition wrote of a “fiasco”. This is one of the reasons why the Greek government is now hesitating with Leopard deliveries.
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