The German tank epic is over. Ukraine gets Leopard 2. Why they are so important to us
In total, a coalition of European and US countries is ready to hand over more than a hundred tanks to Ukraine.
The long story of whether Germany will provide us with its tanks or not has finally reached its logical conclusion. Olaf Scholz announced today that Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine will be transferred.
Active talks about the transfer of tanks started at the end of last year, but Germany has long denied it, arguing its reluctance to transfer tanks because they are expensive to maintain, require infrastructure and cite other "important" reasons. Late last year, Germany said it would not unilaterally transfer its tanks to Ukraine in 2023. And even on Sunday 22 January, Scholz was still evasive when asked about tanks for Ukraine.
In the future, we will act in the same way as in the past, coordinating closely with our allies. This is a principle that has served us well so far.
Ukrainian diplomacy and the conditional coalition of countries, which included Poland, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Great Britain managed to change the situation. They put all kinds of pressure on Germany and declared that they would still hand over the Leopard tanks they had in stock, even if Germany would not agree.
The main reason why Germany was afraid for so long to agree to the transfer of tanks to Ukraine was the fear of provoking Russia to escalate the conflict. In addition, Germany referred to its dark historical past, arguing that it could not supply heavy equipment for killing again.
At some point, however, this weak position began to irritate not only other European countries, but also German politicians. Johann Wadeful of the CDU's foreign affairs and defense party said
Germany has turned into a complete disappointment on the international stage. Out of stubbornness or cowardice, the chancellor is leaving Ukraine in limbo. And ... Germany looks increasingly alone in Europe.
Scholz's constant indecision has even led to a new term: "Scholzing". It means "communicating good intentions only to use/find/invent any reason imaginable to postpone it and/or prevent it".
Another bizarre statement made by Scholz was "Germany will send its tanks only when the US hands over its Abrams to Ukraine." However, the new German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius later denied that this was a condition.
However, whatever the case may be, the ice has finally shifted and Scholz has agreed to transfer German tanks to Ukraine. The first batch will include 14 German Leopards. In addition, Scholz has given permission for re-export. This means that other countries which have Leopards in stock may also transfer these tanks to Ukraine. It is worth recalling that there are about 2,000 such combat vehicles in Europe in total in various countries.
Speech by 🇩🇪 Goebestreit: "At today's council meeting @Bundeskanzler announced further support to Ukraine for the supply of #Leopard 2 tanks. The same agreement is also given to partner countries. This is being done in close coordination with international partners. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/sLWoNTD7aE- German Embassy (@GermanyinUA) January 25, 2023
On 25 January, Correio da Manhã quoted a source close to the government as saying that Portugal is ready to transfer four Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Spain may transfer between 20 and 50 Leopard 2 tanks. Sweden is considering the supply of a Leopard 2 analogue - Stridsvag 122 - the exact number is unknown. Norway is ready to transfer eight German tanks. The Netherlands is considering transferring 18 battle tanks to Ukraine, Finland - 14, Denmark - 6, the UK - 14 Challenger 2 tanks.
And today also US President Joe Biden announced that he would transfer 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, while France is still deciding on the supply of an unnamed number of its Leclerc tanks.
The result is more than a hundred tanks from Europe and the USA. This is an impressive figure. However, Valeriy Zaluzhniy, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, told The Economist that Ukraine needs 300 tanks to reach the borders on 23 February.
So why did Ukraine ask for Leopard 2 tanks for such a long time? The Washington Post wrote about the main reasons.
The Leopard 2 is more advanced than many Soviet-era tanks in service with both Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Even older versions of the tank have state-of-the-art optics, including thermal imaging to allow day and night operations, as well as magnification and a laser rangefinder for target tracking. According to the manufacturer, the tanks are designed to move quickly, with a top speed of around 70km per hour, despite their 55-tonne weight.
The Leopard 2 also has many features designed to protect the crew, such as separate ammunition storage, which avoids the destructive turret explosions typical of the Russian T-72 tanks, where ammunition is stored under the crew.
In addition, the tank is fueled by diesel. It also uses standard NATO 120mm ammunition, this will give access to a wider range of suppliers than the current tanks, which require 125mm ammunition.
Ukraine has focused on the Leopard 2 in part because there are so many of them in Europe, where they could be transported relatively easily to the battlefield.
However, despite all the optimism from the news about the tank deliveries, there are still no exact dates when they will arrive on the battlefield. Most likely the Leopards will arrive by spring, when the Ukrainian counter-offensive is scheduled. But the American Abrams will have to wait months or perhaps even a year.
Time is the most important element right now. After all, Russia is already probing the front and preparing for breakthroughs. As evidenced by the retreat of Ukrainian forces from Soledar. The speaker of the Eastern Group of Forces, Serhiy Cherevaty, said this in a commentary to Suspilnyy. There have also already been attempts to break through the Russians in Zaporizhzhia region. The sooner heavy equipment arrives for Ukraine, the sooner we will be able to conduct a counteroffensive and liberate the Russian-occupied territories.