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18 Feb, 2023 05:39

Scholz issues tank plea

Allies who begged Berlin to “free the Leopards” have so far failed to deliver on their rhetoric
Scholz issues tank plea

Germany has urged its European partners to make good on their promises to supply Ukraine with Leopard tanks. Few countries have stepped up to actually provide the German-made weapon, despite vocal demands for Berlin to authorize shipments to Kiev earlier this year.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz argued that his country has an obligation to assist Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, but suggested Berlin’s allies have not followed through on vows to send Leopard 2 main battle tanks from their own inventories.

“Those who can send such battle tanks should actually do so,” the chancellor said, adding that he and other top German officials have been “intensively campaigning” for allies to send the weapon.

While Scholz initially refused to send Leopard 2s and declined to allow other countries to export the tank to Ukraine, saying he would only do so if allies followed suit and supplied tanks of their own, he later relented in the face of a Western pressure campaign. 

Germany ultimately agreed to send 14 Leopard 2s, and said it would work with partners to create two armored battalions containing 30 tanks each. However, despite loud calls for Berlin to “free the Leopards,” Germany’s EU and NATO allies have been reluctant to deliver on their rhetoric. To date, Denmark, Greece, Switzerland and Turkey have outright refused to send Leopard tanks, while other nations such as Sweden – a prospective NATO member – have made no clear commitments on the issue. 

Finland – another NATO hopeful which helped to popularize the “free the Leopards” slogan used to pressure Germany – has said it would consider joining the Ukraine “tank coalition,” but merely to help train soldiers on how to operate the Leopard 2 rather than sending any of its own.

Canada, Norway, Portugal and Poland are among the few other states that have agreed to supply Leopards, though German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius acknowledged this week that they had only assembled “half a battalion” so far, falling far short of Kiev’s demand for up to 300 tanks.

Moscow has repeatedly urged against Western arms shipments to Ukraine, arguing the weapons will only prolong the conflict and make a negotiated settlement impossible. The Kremlin has stated that any Leopard tanks sent to the battlefield would “burn,” insisting no amount of foreign arms would deter its military objectives.