The expectations were enormous, Ukraine’s requests more urgent than ever. When are the Leopard tanks coming? During talks in Ramstein, all eyes were on the federal government.
Despite considerable pressure from Ukraine and allies, the German government has still not decided on the delivery of Leopard 2 main battle tanks to the country under Russian attack.
However, Germany is preparing for this by checking the availability and number of these tanks, said Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) on the sidelines of the Ukraine conference at the US air base in Ramstein. The decision on a delivery will be made “as soon as possible”. The United States urged its allies to give Ukraine more support. US Secretary of Defense Austin spoke of a “decisive moment” in the war.
The expectations of Germany at the Ramstein talks were enormous. On March 3, 2022 – a good week after the Russian attack – Ukraine officially asked the federal government for the delivery of battle tanks for the first time and then repeated this request again and again. In the past few days, European allies have increased the pressure on Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD).
Poland, for example, announced that it wanted to hand over Leopard tanks to the Ukrainians as part of a coalition. As a production country, Germany plays a key role. Any transfer of the tanks to Ukraine by other countries must be approved by the federal government.
Such export permits were discussed but not decided, said Pistorius. At the same time, the new defense minister tried to counteract the impression that Germany was blocking deliveries. “The impression that has occasionally arisen that there is a closed coalition and Germany is standing in the way – this impression is wrong,” said the SPD politician.
“We are preparing for the worst-case scenario”
There are good reasons for delivery and there are good reasons against. All arguments should be carefully considered. This assessment is shared by many allies. Germany don’t hesitate, just be careful. “We are preparing for the worst-case scenario.” The decision on a delivery will be made “as soon as possible”. If the delivery is decided, it has to be quick, said Pistorius.
The unresolved Leopard issue overshadowed new allied pledges to Ukraine. For example, Pistorius announced a “spring package” worth one billion euros, taking the total amount of German military aid since the beginning of the war to 3.3 billion euros.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said giving Ukraine hundreds of new armored vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles and main battle tanks would make a huge difference for the country. Stoltenberg said he was confident that discussions about providing Leopard 2 tanks would continue.
The Union faction showed a lack of understanding in view of the actions of the federal government and accused it of “denial” in the tank question. Group deputy Johann Wadephul told the German Press Agency that it was “completely incomprehensible” that the new defense minister had only been checking since Friday whether Germany could deliver the tanks. He warned that Russia’s spring offensive could start soon. “What is Scholz waiting for?” he asked.
SPD leader Lars Klingbeil defended the approach against criticism. “Before the federal government makes decisions, it must be clear what the Bundeswehr or the German armaments industry can deliver,” he told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung. The inventory is also useful “to objectify the debate”.
Selenskyj warns to hurry
The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned – in Ramstein via video – to hurry up the arms deliveries. Time is critical, he said. Russia is currently gathering its strength, its last strength. “We have to get faster.” The Russian terror does not allow long discussions. “The Kremlin must lose.”
US Secretary of Defense Austin made a similar statement. “This is not the moment to slow down.” Instead, efforts must be stepped up. “The Ukrainian people are looking at us. The Kremlin is looking at us. And history is looking at us.”
Austin called on all allies – not just the federal government. Germany is a reliable ally and has already done a lot to support Ukraine. When asked if Germany was living up to its leadership role in Europe given the tank hesitancy, Austin said, “Yes, but we can all do more.”
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