Germany postpones Turkish tank upgrades after protest

Use of German-built Leopard-2s in Syria sparks claim arms policy ‘morally depraved’

Turkish army tanks  at  the Syrian border at Hassa: Germany exported €25.1 billion in arms last year, making it the  third-largest arms dealer. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty

Turkish army tanks at the Syrian border at Hassa: Germany exported €25.1 billion in arms last year, making it the third-largest arms dealer. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty


Berlin’s caretaker administration has postponed a decision to upgrade German-made tanks in Turkey after a public outcry over their use in Ankara’s offensive in northern Syria.

News that Turkey had deployed German-built Leopard-2 tanks in Syria has come at a delicate time in Berlin’s relations with Ankara.

It follows reports that Germany exported a record €25.1 billion in arms last year, making it the world’s third-largest arms dealer.

On Thursday, Berlin said it would let the next administration decide on whether to grant Turkey’s request to upgrade more than 1,000 tanks to make them less vulnerable to explosives.

German defence experts say they recognise the vehicles in images from Turkey’s “Operation Olive Branch” offensive in Syria against Kurdish groups.

Norbert Röttgen, a senior member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has said the Turkish intervention was “illegal, contrary to international law and counter-productive with regard to fighting Islamic State”.

The tank row complicates a recent vow by Berlin and Ankara to improve bilateral relations, which have fallen to a modern low in the fallout from the 2016 failed coup.

Coup links

The effort to improve relations has followed the release of a number of German citizens jailed in Turkey, accused of having links to the coup.

According to Der Spiegel magazine, Germany’s acting foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel instructed his office to “look favourably” on Turkey’s tank upgrade request.

At a joint press briefing with his Turkish counterpart, however, Mr Gabriel told reporters that major arms sales to Turkey hinged on the resolution of the case of Deniz Yucel, a Turkish-German journalist in jail since last February on terrorism charges.

Mr Yucel denies claims he spread propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and his fate has burdened relations between the two countries.

Ankara has accused Berlin of not acting on its extradition requests against military officials involved in the putsch who sought asylum. But on Thursday it emerged that Berlin had agreed to help search for a theology professor sought by Ankara in connection with the attempted coup.

Arms sales

Germany insists it operates a restrictive arms policy, exporting mostly to EU and Nato partners. But new figures show arms sales to so-called third countries rose again in 2017 to €3.79 billion.

One-fifth of the export value was for a warship to Algeria but other countries in the top 10 list include Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – all involved in the long-running conflict in Yemen.

In a preliminary coalition agreement, the CDU/CSU and SPD have promised a ban on arms exports to countries involved in the Yemen conflict, “effective immediately”.

Germany’s opposition has attacked Berlin’s arms export policy as “morally depraved” and contrary to promises of a restrictive exports when the Social Democratic Party took office 2013.

Left Party spokesman Stefan Liebich said: “In reality, the floodgates were not closed, but opened even wider.”