Germany will send a squadron of 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and allow others do the same, in a major policy shift expected to boost to Kyiv’s campaign after 11 months of war with Russia.
The news from Berlin on Tuesday evening came amid reports that the US is close to a decision on contributing its own M1 Abrams battle tanks.
After months of hesitation, culminating in a bad-tempered stand-off with allies last Friday at the Ramstein US airbase in southern Germany, chancellor Olaf Scholz will detail the new policy in the Bundestag on Wednesday.
“In this historic situation, Olaf Scholz is meeting his responsibilities as chancellor,” said Lars Klingbeil, co-leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD), confirming the shift.
The decision to send Leopard 2A6 models has been welcomed as a “relief” by the SPD’s junior partners, who have long lobbied for the move.
“The decision was tough and took far too long but was, in the end, inevitable,” said Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, defence spokeswoman for the liberal Free Democratic Party.
In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deployment of western tanks would trigger “unambiguously negative” consequences.
Until now, Germany had refused to send tanks – or grant export permissions for others – for fear that it could escalate the conflict and see Nato dragged in.
When Mr Scholz demanded the US also send battle tanks, Washington refused, saying its Abrams vehicles were ill-suited to Ukraine’s needs.
That position appeared to be changing on Tuesday evening. Senior White House officials told various US media outlets that a shift was likely, but that president Joe Biden had yet to make a final decision.
Earlier on Tuesday in Berlin, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said: “At this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster.”
Germany’s defence ministry confirmed on Tuesday said that Poland had requested, in line with re-export rules, the transfer of a squadron of 14 Leopard A4 tanks, in line with re-export rules.
Other countries, including Finland and its Baltic neighbours, are likely to follow. On Tuesday evening the Swiss parliament lifted its export ban on weapons to countries at war, opening another channel of support for Kyiv.