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Poland sees ‘glimmer of hope’ for getting Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Poland's prime minister said he would ask Germany for permission to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine on Jan. 23, after Berlin said it would not stop them. (Video: Reuters)
5 min

BERLIN — Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Monday that Warsaw would submit a request to Germany to reexport its tanks to Ukraine, after Berlin indicated it would not block such a move.

After the comments Sunday by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, Poland sees a “glimmer of hope” that its German-made Leopard 2 tanks could be sent to Ukraine, Morawiecki said, according to the Polish Press Agency.

Baerbock told France’s LCI TV that if Poland asked Berlin’s permission to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Berlin “would not stand in the way.”

Why is Germany under pressure to send tanks to Ukraine?

The comments increased optimism that a European package of German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks for Ukraine might be unlocked — with or without a direct contribution from Germany itself.

Berlin has so far stalled on making a decision on whether to greenlight the delivery, saying it wants to proceed with caution amid fears it will be seen as a “participant” in the war. Since Germany manufactures the Leopard 2, one of Europe’s most advanced battle tanks, its permission is required for the tank to be reexported by any of the more than a dozen countries that use it.

Tank dispute splits Ukraine’s allies as Zelensky seeks more firepower

Ukraine’s allies met at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany last week amid hope that a deal could be struck with Berlin to send the tanks, but it ended with no agreement. In the days leading up to the key summit, Poland had expressed that it hopes Europe could muster a delivery of up to 100 Leopards from countries including Denmark and Germany.

But as Germany has dragged its feet, making the entire delivery uncertain, Morawiecki has threatened to send the 14 Leopard 2s that Warsaw had promised, with or without Berlin’s approval.

Ukraine has said it desperately needs the tanks as it faces a brutal war waged by invading Russian forces and Wagner Group mercenaries on its eastern front lines.

If Germany continues to stall, Poland will work with other allies to build a “smaller coalition” to send the tanks, Morawiecki told the Polish Press Agency earlier.

“We will not passively watch Ukraine bleed to death,” he said. “The Ukrainian people are fighting for our freedom.”

The decision to support the Ukrainian military is justified both “politically and morally,” he added. “I hope Germany will understand this sooner rather than later.”

Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said that any request from Poland to reexport tanks would be subject to the “standard procedure” and go through Germany’s Federal Security Council — a cabinet committee that deals with arms exports.

He said he could not specify how long it would take for such a request to be approved but assumed it would not take “months.”

“I am rather hopeful that we will find a solution,” he told reporters in Berlin. When it comes to Germany sending its own contingent of Leopard 2 tanks, the government has not ruled that out, Hebestreit said. “It just hasn’t decided yet.”

How Western combat vehicles bound for Ukraine could change the war

Speaking to ARD television on Sunday, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius reiterated that Germany does not want to rush a decision but said one would be made “soon.”

The United Kingdom has pledged its British-made Challenger 2 battle tanks, while France is also mulling a delivery. Speaking about the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks, one of the main tanks used by France, President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday at a news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that “nothing is excluded.”

But he added a condition: that a tank transfer is “not escalatory” and doesn’t weaken France’s own defense capabilities.

On Monday, a senior U.S. military official confirmed that Morocco had sent Ukraine about 20 T-72B battle tanks. The military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, described the donation of the Russian-made tanks, as particularly helpful because the Ukrainian military can use them immediately without additional training.

Ukrainian news agencies that the tanks had been refurbished in the Czech Republic.

Over the course of the war, Germany has been cautious not to be seen as a leader when it comes to arms deliveries. It said earlier this month that sending its Leopards would be eased by Washington sending its M1 Abrams tanks, which Pentagon officials have said are not the best fit for Ukraine in terms of operability and would take a long time to arrive. But Berlin appeared to drop that position last week as Pistorius said there was no “linkage” between the Leopards and the U.S. tanks.

The question of tanks has highlighted an enduring split on how much to do for Ukraine, with Poland and the Baltic nations leading the push for swifter, more aggressive support. On Saturday, the foreign ministers of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia published a joint statement on the issue, urging Germany to “provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now.”

“This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly,” they wrote. “Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard.”

In recent weeks, the United States and some NATO allies have argued that Ukraine needs more advanced weapons to shift battlefield dynamics, particularly ahead of a possible Russian push this spring. Urmas Reinsalu, Estonia’s foreign minister, said Monday that Ukrainian forces need more support so they go on the offensive themselves.

“We need to give the Ukrainian people a shield,” he said, “But also a sword to defend their territory.”

Rauhala reported from Brussels. Vanessa Guinan-Bank in Berlin, Rick Noack in Paris, and Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.