Germany won’t stop Poland from sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine

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BERLIN — Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Monday that Warsaw would submit a request to Germany to reexport its tanks to Ukraine, after Berlin indicated it would not block such a move.

After comments by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Sunday, Poland sees a “glimmer of hope” that its German-made Leopard 2 tanks could be sent to Ukraine, Morawiecki said, according to the Polish Press Agency.

Baerbock told France’s LCI TV that if Poland asked Berlin’s permission to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Berlin “would not stand in the way.”

Berlin has so far stalled on unlocking a package of German-made Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, saying it wants to proceed with caution amid fears it will be seen as a “participant” in the war. Since Germany manufactures the Leopard 2, one of Europe’s most advanced battle tanks, its permission is required for the tank to be reexported by any of the more than a dozen countries that use it.

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European nations including Poland had been hoping that a deal would be struck at a meeting in Ramstein, Germany, last week, but it ended with no agreement on the tanks. As Germany has dragged its feet, Morawiecki has threatened to send the 14 Leopard 2s that Warsaw had promised, with or without Berlin’s approval.

Ukraine has said it desperately needs the tanks as it faces a brutal war of attrition waged by Russian forces and Wagner Group mercenaries on its eastern front lines.

If Germany continues to stall, Poland will work with other allies to build a “smaller coalition” to send the tanks, Morawiecki told the Polish Press Agency.

“We will not passively watch Ukraine bleed to death,” he said. “The Ukrainian people are fighting for our freedom.”

The decision to support the Ukrainian military is justified both “politically and morally,” he added. “I hope Germany will understand this sooner rather than later.”

Speaking to ARD television on Sunday, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius reiterated that Germany does not want to rush a decision but said one would be made “soon.”

The United Kingdom has pledged its British-made Challenger 2 battle tanks, while France is also mulling a delivery. Speaking about the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks, one of the main tanks used by France, President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday at a news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that “nothing is excluded.”

But he added a condition: that a tank transfer is “not escalatory” and doesn’t weaken France’s own defense capabilities.

Over the course of the war, Germany has been cautious not to be seen as a leader when it comes to arms deliveries. It said earlier this month that sending its Leopards would be eased by Washington sending its M1 Abrams tanks, which Pentagon officials have said are not the best fit for Ukraine in terms of operability and would take a long time to arrive. But Berlin appeared to drop that position last week as Pistorius said there was no “linkage” between the Leopards and the U.S. tanks.

The question of tanks has highlighted an enduring split on how much to do for Ukraine, with Poland and the Baltic nations leading the push for swifter, more aggressive support. On Saturday, the foreign ministers of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia published a joint statement on the issue, urging Germany to “provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now.”

“This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly,” they wrote. “Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard.”

In recent weeks, the United States and some NATO allies have argued that Ukraine needs more advanced weapons to shift battlefield dynamics, particularly ahead of a possible Russian push this spring. Urmas Reinsalu, Estonia’s foreign minister, said Monday that Ukrainian forces need more support so that they go on the offensive themselves.

“We need to give the Ukrainian people a shield,” he said, “But also a sword to defend their territory.”

Rauhala reported from Brussels. Rick Noack in Paris contributed to this report.

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