Germany’s defence minister has voiced his frustration with European partners who spent months pressuring Berlin to supply tanks to Ukraine but have so far failed to deliver any of the heavy armour themselves.
Boris Pistorius said progress made by other countries in sending German-made Leopard tanks had “not been exactly breathtaking, to put it mildly”.
Asked if he could understand countries that pushed Germany to send such advanced weapons systems to Ukraine and were now not delivering their own, he said: “As I’m in a diplomatic arena right now, I would just say — not much.”
For months, German chancellor Olaf Scholz was reluctant to provide Ukraine with main battle tanks in case that increased the risk of a direct confrontation between Nato and Russia.
But he performed a big U-turn late last month, agreeing to send 14 Leopard 2A6s after the US committed to providing 31 M1 Abrams tanks. Scholz has insisted that weapons deliveries should be co-ordinated with allies and that Germany would not “go it alone”.
Berlin also announced last month that it would let allies re-export German-made tanks to Ukraine, and said it wanted to team up with its allies to create two tank battalions of Leopard 2s, equating to about 90 tanks.
In addition, the government has approved the export to Ukraine of 178 older Leopard 1 tanks that had been decommissioned in Germany two decades ago and were sold back to private companies.
Officials in Berlin had hoped that the flurry of announcements would prompt Germany’s allies to follow through on their promises to send their own contingents of Leopard 2s to Ukraine. Thirteen European armies operate about 2,000 of the tanks, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
But so far, apart from Germany, only Poland has approved substantial deliveries. Late last month, Canada announced it would send four Leopard 2 tanks and Norway said on Tuesday it was also providing eight.
The relatively small commitments have triggered fears that Ukraine might not receive enough heavy armour from the west to deter an imminent Russian offensive.
Pistorius said Portugal had agreed to send three Leopard 2A6s — a commitment he described as an “appropriate contribution” for a relatively small country. But there were currently “no talks under way” on sending more A6s, he added.
He also said Poland would supply Leopard 2A4s but expressed doubt about their “condition and whether they are operational”.
Poland, however, has been more upbeat about the Leopard coalition for Ukraine, saying it was gradually coming together. Defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak said he had agreed with Pistorius that Poland would form a group of nations providing Leopard 2A4s while Germany would concentrate on the Leopard 2A6.
He said Canada had already delivered tanks to Poland together with their instructors and Warsaw was waiting for the tanks from Norway. He added that Poland was also in “advanced talks” with Spain.
Nato officials told the Financial Times that Berlin was waiting for a coalition of Leopard 2 donors to be formed before sending its own contingent, adding that the plan was to send the two battalions in one delivery.
Germany has already begun training Ukrainian tank crews on the vehicles, raising the possibility that deliveries could be delayed if other countries continued to drag their feet.
Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, said on Monday that “speed and urgency” were critical for Ukraine’s needs.
“My top priority is to ensure that the pledges allies have made for infantry fighting vehicles, for armour, for battle tanks, that they are delivered as soon as possible because every day counts,” he added.
Additional reporting by Barbara Erling in Warsaw