Poland intends to transfer a company of German-developed Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda told reporters Wednesday during a visit to western Ukraine, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.
Duda made the remarks ahead of a meeting next week of the US-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Germany, where defense ministers from dozens of countries will gather to discuss Kyiv’s most urgent needs. Top US officials and allies are expected to discuss next steps in military support, including the question of tanks.
The United States and Germany last week joined France in pledging armored combat vehicles to Ukraine, answering Kyiv’s call for new weapons at a moment when Ukrainian forces are trying to push back Russian forces in the south and east. The decisions were seen as a new phase in support for Ukraine, although armored combat vehicles fall short of Kyiv’s desire for Western main battle tanks, which countries backing the Ukrainian war effort have been reluctant to send.
Germany must approve the reexport of the Leopard tanks from Poland to Ukraine because they were manufactured in Germany. Steffen Hebestreit, a spokesman for the German Defense Ministry, said Berlin was not aware of such a request. The latest versions of the Leopards would probably outmatch most of Russia’s tanks in Ukraine, such as the T-72s.
A typical Polish tank company has 14 tanks, according to the Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform,
Zelensky said Kyiv expects a joint decision from European countries. A single country “cannot help us with ‘Leopards,’ because we are fighting against thousands of tanks of the Russian Federation,” he said in a statement after the meeting.
Although more than a dozen countries near Ukraine possess Leopard tanks, not all of the vehicles are in operable condition, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. “The more that countries donate tanks, the easier it will be to share the burden of giving them away,” it said in a column last year.
Last week, Poland’s deputy foreign minister told Polish radio that Warsaw wants European countries to send more modern tanks to Ukraine like the Leopard. German lawmaker Sara Nanni, a member of a party in Germany’s ruling coalition, expressed support for Poland’s offer, tweeting a news story in which she was quoted as supporting plans to ship Leopards to Ukraine.
Finnish lawyer Atte Harjannewho has repeatedly demanded that Europe send Leopards to Ukraine, launched a “free the Leopards” campaign that aims to pressure Berlin to permit the shipments of the Leopards.
Two days later, it tweeted a more cryptic message. “Abrams or Leopard? What’s your bet? the ministry saidin reference to the US-designed M1 Abrams tank, which serves as the US military’s main battle tank.
Ukraine’s supporters have shipped Soviet-era tanks to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion last year, but they have been hesitant to provide more modern armored vehicles till this month, when the United States pledged to send Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Germany promised a batch of Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles. France also announced a shipment of an unspecified number of its AMX-10 RC “light tanks,” a wheeled armored vehicle with a 105mm cannon that is also called a “tank destroyer.”
Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, Poland and other NATO countries close to Russia have led the push to provide Ukraine with modern military gear. In March, less than a month after the start of the Russian invasion, Poland offered to send MiG-29 fighters to Kyiv, using a US base in Germany — a move that Washington opposed out of fear it could provoke Moscow.
US officials have expressed sympathy for Ukraine’s need for tanks. Last week, Laura Cooper, the US deputy assistant secretary of defense, told reporters that “we absolutely agree that Ukraine does need tanks.” She said that was partly why the United States has partnered with the Netherlands to provide Ukraine with refurbished Soviet-designed T-72 tanks.
Cooper said the United States and allies wanted to be sure that Ukraine could maintain modern Western tanks before agreeing to supply them. “We have to be cognizant of maintenance and sustainment considerations with tanks, and certainly we know that the Abrams tank, in addition to being a gas guzzler, is quite challenging to maintain,” she said.
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