German Tanks for Ukraine Are Stuck as the US Resists Sending Its Own
Written by Natalia Drozdiak, Michael Nienaber and Jenny Leonard
January 20, 2023 at 12:00 AM EST ... Updated onJanuary 20, 2023 at 6:02 AM EST
Follow the authors
@nat_droz + Get alerts forNatalia Drozdiak ... @mcnienaber + Get alerts forMichael Nienaber ... @jendeben + Get alerts forJenny Leonard
In this article
The US and some European nations are struggling to overcome Germany’s reluctance to supply its Leopard battle tank to Ukraine, a disagreement that threatens to distract from the unity that allies want to project at a crucial defense ministers meeting later on Friday.
The gathering of the Defense Contact Group — a US-assembled body meant to coordinate weapons aid for Ukraine — was intended to demonstrate allies are moving in lockstep as they send increasingly powerful weapons to help President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government counter Russian forces.
But that show of unity has been tarnished by the back-and-forth over the German-made Leopard tank, which Chancellor Olaf Scholz doesn’t want to provide — or let other nations supply — unless the US also sends its main battle tank, the M1 Abrams. The US argues that the Leopard is in plentiful supply while the Abrams is a costly gas-guzzler that would be too difficult to maintain and supply on the Ukrainian battlefield.
Click here for a German version of this story.
The White House sees little logic in the German approach given that the German tanks would be ready sooner and require less training, according to one person who’s familiar with the Biden administration’s views and asked not to be identified. But Germany, wary of provoking Russia’s ire and escalating the war beyond Ukraine’s border, has insisted “we never go alone,” as Scholz said in an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait.
Scholz Says Germany in Talks to Send Tanks to Ukraine
Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, during a Bloomberg Television interview in Berlin.Markets: European Close.”
“If America will decide that they will bring battle tanks to Ukraine, that will make it easier for Germany,” Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said on Bloomberg TV this week. “You know our history, and we are little bit more reluctant there for understandable reasons.”
The insistence that the US and Germany move in lockstep was a point Scholz also underscored to US lawmakers on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, people familiar with the matter said.
But the new German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius raised hopes that Berlin might be open to reversing its position. When asked by public broadcaster ARD on Thursday if the U.S. sending its Abrams to Ukraine would be a precondition for Germany supplying Leopards, Pistorius said: “I’m not aware of such a package deal.”
The disagreement is a rare note of dissension between allied nations over providing weapons to Ukraine and threatens to erode the unity that’s been carefully constructed over several months on the best weapons to give Ukraine.
The US, Germany and other NATO allies have gradually provided more powerful weapons as the conflict has gone on, wary of escalating Russia’s war in Ukraine into a broader continent-wide conflict while also trying to ensure Kyiv has the backing it needs. The US announced Thursday evening that it’s sending 90 Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers to Ukraine as part of a new package of about $2.5 billion in military aid drawn from Defense Department inventories. There was no mention of tanks.
President Joe Biden’s administration has a foundation of cooperation with Scholz, who has pledged substantial increases in Germany’s defense spending as part of an evolution he calls “Zeitenwende” — the turning point. This month, Germany and the US coordinated closely in jointly announcing a decision to send armored infantry fighting vehicles and an additional Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine.
John Kirby, spokesman for the US National Security Council denied there were any fractures in NATO over the tank issue. He told CNN that Germany has “evolved their capabilities over time,” providing increasingly advanced systems “in a way that’s unique to Germany and to their domestic concerns. And we have to respect that.”
NATO allies have already sent Ukraine older battle tanks that operate with Soviet-era ammunition, which is running low. The advantage of modern western battle tanks is they use more plentiful western ammunition, according to Yohann Michel, a defense and military research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The Leopard 2 tanks in particular are in the spotlight due to their sheer quantity. European allies own hundreds of the German-built tanks, in different varieties, which could spread the burden across a greater number of countries. Poland alone wants to send 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks, although Germany says none can be supplied without its permission.
Poland may do so anyway — potentially putting more strain on the western alliance. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told Polsat News on Wednesday that Poland may send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine without getting Germany’s go-ahead.
“Either we get this approval soon or we will do ourselves what has to be done,” he was quoted as saying.
Who Has the German Battle Tanks Sought by Kyiv?
Leopard 2 inventory by country
Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies
The map doesn't show Canada, which has 82 Leopard 2 tanks. Finland and Norway have some of their units in store.
Sending a mix of systems would be “better than nothing, but with the Leopards, there’s just so many more of them and so many more countries that have them,” said Samantha de Bendern, an associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. “If the Germans were to give the green light, it would make a difference on the battlefield because these tanks are superior to what the Russians have.”
Even if Germany relents, it could take months before the tanks appear on the battlefield in Ukraine, which may be after Russia launches a new offensive.
Still, de Bendern said, it would “have a strong psychological value for the Ukrainians,” and “it’s better to have the promise of the tanks than not having them at all.”
— With assistance by Piotr Skolimowski, Jordan Fabian, Slav Okov, Courtney McBride, Jennifer Jacobs, Peter Martin, Arne Delfs and Alberto Nardelli
(Updates with German defense minister in the seventh paragraph.)
How Digital Technologies Will Advance the Global Drive To Net Zero
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
- A dispute over battle tanks risks undermining allied unity
- Defense ministers set to address the issue in meeting Friday
|The text being discussed is available at