Poland has said it was willing to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine without approval, but would first seek permission from Berlin, as Kyiv presses its allies for heavy weaponry. European nations agreed on Monday to spend another 500 million euros ($543m) to arm Kyiv in the latest boost to the multibillion-dollar drive to help Ukraine push back Russian forces.
However, while scores of nations have pledged military hardware, Kyiv is clamouring for more advanced and heavier weapons, notably the powerful Leopard 2 – seen as key to punching through enemy lines. Berlin, which needs to grant permission for the tanks to be re-exported to Ukraine, has come under fire for failing to take the critical decision.
After days of mounting pressure and stalling, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Sunday said Germany would not stand in the way if Warsaw asked to send Leopard 2 tanks. “We will seek this approval,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters Monday.
Morawiecki didn’t specify when the request to Germany will be made. He said that Poland is building a coalition of nations ready to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. “Even if we didn’t get such an approval in the end, we will give our tanks to Ukraine anyway – within a small coalition of countries, even if Germany isn’t in that coalition,” Morawiecki said.
Ukraine, which is still using Soviet-era tanks, has said the world’s indecision is only “killing more of our people”. Poland announced earlier this month that it was ready to deliver 14 Leopard tanks to Kyiv but was waiting for a clear statement from Berlin authorising the transfer.
Berlin has insisted on the need for all allies to work together. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman reiterated that stance Monday, saying the government “does not rule out” the tanks’ transfer but adding: “It has not yet decided.”
Although Berlin has provided substantial aid, it has been repeatedly criticised for dragging its feet on providing military hardware. German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said it was important for Germany not to take a “reckless” step it might regret, adding that a decision will not be rushed. “These are hard questions of life and death,” he added. “We have to ask what this means for the defence of our own country.”
Pressed on how long a decision on sending tanks might take, Hebestreit said: “I assume that it’s not a question of months now.” Julian Pawlak, a research associate at the University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg, said that although many countries including the United Kingdom and United States have sent various weapons to Ukraine, it is still a “long way before really sending those numbers of 300 tanks or 600 infantry fighting vehicles”.
While Ukraine continues to use Soviet-era tanks, at some point in the future “numbers will go down and Ukraine will depend more and more on western ammunition and consequently, also more on western assets,” Pawlak told Al Jazeera. Haunted by its post-World War II guilt, Germany has always acted carefully when it comes to conflicts.
Under Germany’s War Weapons Control Act, Poland and other purchasing countries require Berlin’s approval to hand over the Leopard tanks to Ukraine. The act aims to prevent German-made armaments from being used in conflict zones against Germany’s interests.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the latest developments on Western Europe sending tanks to Ukraine “signalled increasing nervousness among members of the alliance”. On Friday, some 50 nations agreed to provide Kyiv with billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware, including armoured vehicles and munitions needed to push back Russian forces.
European foreign ministers on Monday agreed to spend an extra 500 million euros ($543m) to arm Ukraine, diplomats said. This takes the total common European Union spending to 3.6 billion euros ($3.9bn). Ukraine has called the tanks key to its effort in the war, which has seen heavy fighting in the nation’s east. Neither side shows signs of backing down as the war heads for a second year.