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Germany approves Leopards for Ukraine as US promises M1 tanks

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BERLIN — The German government has announced plans to deliver 14 of the country’s Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow other countries to send their tanks on Wednesday.

The Biden administration will also announce on Wednesday that it will send the main US main battle tank, the M1 Abrams, though likely not until the fall, a senior US official with knowledge of the situation said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the public. the problem.

“The aim is to quickly assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine. As a first step, Germany will supply a company with 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks. Other European partners will also hand over Leopard-2 tanks,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s statement.

Ukrainian officials are counting on the Leopard 2 tanks – which are fast, relatively easy to operate and abundant in Europe – to help their troops gain an advantage on the battlefield. It is unclear when the German tanks could be delivered, along with other tanks from a consortium of European countries preparing to send their own tanks.

The German magazine Der Spiegel, which was the first to report on the shift in Berlin’s policy, said the German tanks would be sent from the stocks of the Bundeswehr, the German army.

What is so special about the German Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine?

Berlin had long resisted calls to send tanks without acting alongside allies, saying it did not want to be seen as a direct participant in the war, and inviting Russia to retaliate. In recent weeks, German officials have been more explicit in linking a decision to send tanks to a similar move by the United States.

But intense international pressure — and an apparent reversal of Washington’s stance on sending its main battle tanks — seems to have given impetus.

As the manufacturer of the Leopard 2, one of the most widely used tanks in Europe, Germany holds the key to getting the entire pack of tanks ready for delivery to Ukraine, as Berlin approval is required for re-export. Poland and a number of other European NATO members had indicated their willingness to send Leopard 2s. Finland, Greece, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey all own at least 100.

“The decision to release and deliver the Leopard 2 was difficult, but inescapable,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the German parliament’s defense committee. tweeted. “It is redemptive news for a battered and brave Ukraine.”

European allies had hoped to announce a pack of leopards at a meeting on Ukraine last week at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. But Berlin’s new defense minister had said Germany needed more time to make a “careful” decision and assess its supplies.

While Germany dragged on, Poland, which plans to send a company of Leopards or 14 tanks, had threatened to do so, with or without Berlin’s consent. On Tuesday, Poland formally asked Germany for permission to re-export, increasing pressure on Berlin to reach a decision.

Top national security advisers from Germany, France, Britain and the United States will also meet in Washington on Wednesday to discuss Ukraine. Britain has said it would send a small number of its Challenger 2 main battle tanks.

Agreeing to send the Leopards is a big step towards ending Ukraine’s war “by winning it,” said Norbert Röttgen, a Christian Democrat lawmaker and foreign policy expert. But it is a “catastrophic signal” that Germany rejected European action against tanks without US contribution, he said tweeted.

“Scholz successfully pressured the Americans on the condition that they only supply jointly with the US,” he added. “Washington won’t soon forget that.”

Ukrainian officials and US lawmakers had urged the Biden administration to approve even a small number of Abrams tanks, arguing that it would give Berlin the cover it needed to feel comfortable with it sending his own tanks.

Another US official said the United States would order at least 31 Abrams tanks and eight support vehicles under the plan. They will be bought with money from the Congress-provided Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, rather than taken from the US arsenal like many other weapons sent to Ukraine, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the issue.

However, last week senior US officials insisted that the Abrams would be too onerous for the Ukrainian military to operate and maintain.

“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Deputy Defense Secretary Colin Kahl told reporters last week after returning from a visit to Kiev. “The Abrams is a very complicated piece of equipment. It is expensive. It’s hard to train on.”

The addition of more modern tanks to the Ukrainian military raises questions about how the United States or its allies could train Ukrainian forces to use them and incorporate them into battlefield formations with other recently delivered Western equipment.

Polish officials said last week they planned to train Ukrainians on leopards within days.

US gives Ukraine advanced M1 tanks

Another possibility is to train a larger number of Ukrainian troops in the Grafenwoehr training area in the Bavarian countryside in Germany. The US facility, the largest of its kind in Europe, began hosting a battalion of more than 600 Ukrainian troops this month to learn how to incorporate artillery, infantry fighting vehicles and other Western weapons into “combined arms warfare” to launch the assault in to go . The facility is also used for tank training.

At about 55 tons, the Leopard is slightly smaller than the 65-ton Abrams. The German tank runs on ubiquitous diesel fuel, while the Abrams has a multi-fuel turbine engine that usually runs on JP-8 jet fuel but can accept other types.

Lamothe and DeYoung reported from Washington. Vanessa Guinan-Bank in Berlin contributed.

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