Berlin has ‘no objection’ to Poland sending German-built tanks to Ukraine

Polish call for group of countries to send tanks increases pressure on chancellor Scholz, who has been cautious on arms deliveries

Berlin’s federal economics minister Robert Habeck has said he has no objections if Poland supplies Ukraine with German-built Leopard tanks.

After a visit to Lviv on Wednesday, Polish president Andrzej Duda said Poland planned to supply Ukraine with Leopard battle tanks “as part of an international coalition”.

His call - for a “whole group of countries to provide tanks in order to create a serious counterforce to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” - has stepped up pressure on chancellor Olaf Scholz.

To date the German leader has refused to send battle tanks to Ukraine, though his government last week agreed to supply lighter Marder vehicles.


Breaking rank with the chancellor, Green economics minister Robert Habeck said Germany should “not stand in the way when other countries make decisions to support Ukraine”.

As minister in charge of arms exports and permits, Mr Habeck’s permission is required for Poland to pass on German-made tanks. Mr Habeck said his support for Poland was “independent of whatever decision Germany reaches”.

“We make our decisions in alliance with other partners and countries,” he added.

Fellow Green foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, on a visit to Ukraine this week, said Germany’s co-ordinated approach with its partners “sometimes costs us time” but that it was important to move forward carefully, “even if it breaks one’s heart”.

Germany’s Green party and its liberal coalition partners, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), have been consistently more hawkish on arms deliveries to Ukraine.

Green Bundestag floor leader Britta Haßelmann said that, with an eye on considerable German support to Ukraine in the past, Berlin needs to ask “if, with our partners, we can do more”.

“We cannot let up,” she added.

Senior Green politicians are pressing for Mr Scholz to make an announcement on battle tanks at a gathering next week at the US Airforce base in Rammstein.

Mr Scholz and his centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have been more cautious on arms deliveries.

SPD defence minister Christine Lambrecht said on Thursday that Germany had yet to receive any Leopard tank export requests.

As part of its support to Ukraine, Germany has supplied troop transport vehicles, anti-tank missiles and air defence systems.

Next week 400 German soldiers will arrive in Poland to train soldiers there on a new Patriot missile defence system. The system is a German contribution to secure Polish airspace, agreed last November after a stray missile killed two in southeastern Poland.

Senior Ukrainian politicians, who have long demanded Leopard tanks from Germany, have stepped up their demands this week.

“It’s always a similar pattern: first they say no, then defend their decision hotly, then they finally say yes,” said Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, to German broadcaster ARD. “We’re still trying to understand why the German federal government does this to itself.”

On Twitter Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, argued that “German Leopard tanks on the Ukrainian steppes in 2023 on the ‘side of good’ have a chance to balance the historical scales of justice, which were shaken by the evil of Wehrmacht tanks in the 40s”.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe