Germany has confirmed that it will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and approve their re-export from other countries, in a move that was hailed by Kyiv’s Western allies and decried by Russia as a dangerous escalation.
Fourteen of the German-made tanks will be sent initially as part of Berlin’s historic move, which was announced on Wednesday.
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“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement.
The government said its goal was for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with a total of two battalions, or 88 tanks overall.
Ukrainian troops will soon train in Germany, and Berlin will also provide logistics and ammunition, its statement added.
The head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, welcomed the news on social media, saying: “The first step on tanks has been taken … We need a lot of Leopards.”
But the Russian embassy in Germany said Berlin’s decision meant it was abandoning its “historical responsibility to Russia” arising from Nazi crimes in World War II.
The embassy said in a statement the decision would escalate the conflict to a new level.
“This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about the unwillingness of the Federal Republic of Germany to be drawn into it,” Ambassador Sergei Nechayev said.
For weeks, pressure had piled on Scholz to supply Kyiv with the tanks and allow other NATO allies to do the same in advance of expected spring offensives by both sides that could help turn the tide of the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has appealed for 300 tanks from Western allies to unleash a “real punching fist of democracy” to force Russian troops out of his country.
The United Kingdom has already pledged to deliver 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Kyiv, while the United States is reportedly poised to reverse its previous position and send dozens of its M1 Abrams to Ukraine.
Moscow earlier said Western-supplied tanks will “burn” and dismissed suggestions they will affect the outcome of the nearly yearlong conflict.
‘A big step towards stopping Russia’
Significantly, Germany’s decision paves the way for other countries such as Poland and Finland to use their own reserves of Leopard tanks to support Ukraine.
Several European nations have indicated their willingness to part with their units as part of a larger coalition.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak praised Scholz’s move as “the right decision”.
“Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace,” he said.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who was the most vocal leader calling on Germany to greenlight the deliveries, said the decision marked “a big step towards stopping Russia”.
But Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Berlin, said Germany may now face questions over why it took “so long” to reach a decision on supplying the tanks.
“… many Leopard 2 tanks were sold by Germany to other European Union and NATO countries, and those are the countries that were beseeching Olaf Scholz to do what he has done now,” Kane said.
“It looks as if in the course of the next few weeks and months these deliveries will take place.
“But the people who will be using the tanks in Ukraine will need to be trained on how to use them.”