Poland says it will ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine – and would send them whether or not Berlin agreed as long as other countries did too.
The Kyiv government wants the German-made Leopard 2, one of the most widely used Western tanks, to help it break through Russian lines and recapture territory this year.
Germany, which must approve re-exports of the Leopard, has held back, wary of moves that could cause Moscow to escalate, and says other NATO countries have yet to formally ask to re-export them.
On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin would not stand in Poland’s way and on Monday, the European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said Germany was not blocking the export of the tanks. But Warsaw’s call for a coalition signalled any transfer was still some way off.
Western countries have committed billions of dollars in new military aid to Ukraine in recent days: on Monday, European Union foreign ministers agreed to release their latest tranche, worth 500 million euros ($545 million), officials said.
But at both Monday’s EU talks in Brussels and last week’s meeting of Western defence ministers in Germany, the issue of battle tanks dominated discussions.
“At this point there are no good arguments why battle tanks cannot be provided,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said. “The argument of escalation does not work, because Russia continues escalating.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, whose country borders Ukraine, said Warsaw would ask Germany for permission to re-export the tanks to Kyiv.
“Even if we did not get this approval… we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine. The condition for us at the moment is to build at least a small coalition of countries,” he said on Monday.
Poland has said it would provide a company of Leopards – around 14 – but Morawiecki said a transfer only made sense as part of a brigade – a variable but much larger number. Some 20 countries operate the tank, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
Ukraine and Russia are both believed to be planning spring offensives to break the deadlock in what has become a war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine as the first anniversary of the Russian invasion nears.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, meanwhile, was grappling with a corruption scandal that could dampen Western enthusiasm for his government.
A newspaper reported that the Ukrainian military had allegedly secured food at highly inflated prices, and a deputy minister resigned after an investigation into allegations he accepted a bribe.
Ukrainian officials have been pleading with Western allies to supply them with tanks for months.
After Ukrainian advances in the second half of 2022, front lines have been largely frozen in place for two months, despite heavy losses on both sides. Ukraine says Western tanks would give its ground troops the mobility, protection and firepower to break through Russian defensive lines and resume their advance.
“We need tanks – not 10-20, but several hundred,” Zelenskiy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram. “Our goal is (restoring) the borders of 1991 and punishing the enemy, who will pay for their crimes.”