On Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised the Ukrainian government in Kiev 14 Leopard 2 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks. Shortly after, US President Joe Biden announced that the USA would deliver 31 of its M1 Abrams tanks.
The German government will also issue the necessary export licences for other countries to send the German-made tanks. As Leopard 2s are produced in Germany, the German government must approve any transfer of these tanks – regardless of the country. As a rule, this is stipulated in the purchase contracts. This means that Scholz is at the lever for the delivery of the tanks to Ukraine.
Scholz’s move cleared the way for other European nations that operate Leopards to send tanks from their own fleets to Ukraine, further building up the combined-arms arsenal Kiev said it needs to launch counter-offensives.
Poland, Finland and the Baltic states had been pushing for tanks to be sent. Currently, at least eleven EU countries as well as Turkey and Norway are in possession of the German-made Leopard 2 tanks. Altogether, they hold over 2,000 of them.
Germany, the United States and other allies want to support Ukraine in the war against Russia with significantly more than 100 Western-designed battle tanks.
The first Leopard 2 battle tanks from Germany could be in Ukraine in about three months, the German government said. Berlin’s goal is to quickly assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2s, with the addition of tanks from other European countries.
Commitments to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine
Among the nations which have publicly announced they are ready to send tanks to Ukraine are Poland, Spain, Norway and Finland.
Poland had exerted considerable pressure on Germany in the discussion about the battle tank deliveries. The Central European country with a direct border to Ukraine has no less than 247 Leopards, according to its Ministry of Defense. Last week, Polish President Andrzej Duda had already announced that 14 of them would be handed over to Ukraine.
Spain said it was ready to send some of its German-made Leopard tanks to support Ukraine’s fight against Russia after Berlin granted approval for their European transfers. The Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, stated on Wednesday that Spain is willing to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine and to train in their use, always in coordination with the allies.
Spain has 347 Leopard battle tanks, of which 108 are 2A4 models bought from Germany in the 1990s, the oldest currently in operation. They require an overhaul that would take around a month and a half, according to defence sources, who point out that training the Ukrainian military would require another month. The remaining 239 tanks are so-called 2E models, the Spanish version and one of the most modern.
Norway will send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine as part of Western aid, its Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram said, joining other European countries. According to the Ministry of Defense, the country purchased 52 used Leopard 2A4s from the Netherlands in 2001, but not all of them were operational.
Considering further military aid
As the debate about supplying Ukraine with more efficient military equipment continues to unfold, some European governments remain on the sidelines to carefully consider their next move, while others distanced themselves from the debate.
France “welcomes” the German green light to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, saying it “extends and amplifies” the arms support to which Paris had committed, the Elysée Palace said on Wednesday. The French government itself has not yet decided whether to send its own heavy Leclerc tanks, a possibility that President Emmanuel Macron has not ruled out. On January 4, Paris had announced the sending of “light battle tanks,” followed by a similar decision by Germany and the United States.
On Sunday, President Macron assured that “nothing is ruled out”, but issued three criteria for any potential action: It must not be escalatory, it must provide real and effective support to the Ukrainians, taking into account the time needed for training, and it must not weaken French defense capabilities. In any case, no decision on this subject was expected in the very short term, Paris warned.
Italy is not part of the debate about Ukraine’s request to send German Leopard 2 tanks to help fight off the Russian invasion, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. Together with the French the country is now committed to deliver anti-missile defence systems to Ukraine, the foreign minister added.
Slovenia does not possess any Leopard 2 tanks, but supports Ukraine in any possible way, Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon said on the sidelines of the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday. Last autumn, Slovenia sent 28 M55S tanks to Ukraine, which had remained in the country after the withdrawal of Yugoslavian forces in 1991 and were modernized later. This was part of an agreement with Germany on an exchange of military vehicles. Slovenia sent 28 tanks to Ukraine and received 40 German-made transport vehicles in exchange.
Croatia is also among the EU members that do not have German Leopard 2 tanks. At the very beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Croatian government approved the delivery of infantry weapons – machine guns, assault rifles, ammunition and protective equipment – with a total value of about 16.5 million euros, enough to arm up to four brigades.
Bulgaria mainly has Soviet era military equipment and does not operate Western tanks or fighter jets. The country decided last December to provide military support to Ukraine. Each individual delivery will require parliamentary approval.
Bulgaria’s Chief of Defense, Admiral Emil Eftimov, said that a specified set of armaments and materiel was proposed on the basis of findings about the progress of hostilities in Ukraine and the condition and capabilities of the Bulgarian defense industry, as well as those of its EU and NATO allies.
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