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3 Mar, 2023 14:40

Switzerland reveals German tank deal proposal

Berlin wants to purchase decommissioned Leopard 2s while donating some of its own stock to Kiev 
Switzerland reveals German tank deal proposal

Germany has asked Switzerland to sell decommissioned Leopard 2 main battle tanks back to their manufacturer Rheinmetall, so Berlin can replenish its stocks after donating its own tanks to Ukraine, Swiss authorities said on Friday. The German-made heavy tanks were originally acquired by Bern in the 1980s.

Lorenz Frischknecht, spokesman of the Swiss Federal Department of Defense, confirmed the request to Swiss newspaper Blick, which first reported the story on Friday. “From the army’s point of view, it would be possible in principle to dispense with a limited number of battle tanks, minus those necessary for Switzerland’s own needs,” Frischknecht said. 

According to Blick, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius and Economy Minister Robert Habeck formally proposed the plan to buy back 96 tanks in a letter to Viola Amherd, the top Swiss defense official, on February 23. They were said to have promised that the combat vehicles in question would not be sent to Ukraine. The newspaper noted that the Alpine country needs 34 of the decommissioned tanks for its own defense. 

Frischknecht was quoted as saying that the army has begun to study the issue. The final decision will be up to the Federal Assembly, the country’s parliament. Arne Collatz, the spokesman for the German Defense Ministry, confirmed to reporters that Berlin was interested in the Swiss tanks, but the exact number has not yet been decided. 

Although Germany and other NATO members pledged to deliver Leopard 2s to Ukraine, some European countries have since reportedly struggled to find available vehicles in their stocks. Pistorius said last month that he was “a bit shocked” that some partners “didn’t do anything” on the matter. 

Switzerland, which follows a centuries-old policy of neutrality, has been reluctant to allow the re-export of its weapons to conflict zones. 

The Swiss government has previously refused to greenlight the transfer of two Swiss-made 35mm anti-aircraft guns to Ukraine from Spain and around 20 Piranha III armored vehicles from Denmark. In February, the security committee of the upper house of the Swiss parliament turned down a proposal to return 30 retired Leopard tanks to Germany, citing the need to maintain a strategic reserve. 

Moscow has maintained that foreign arms will not change the course of the Ukraine conflict and will be treated as legitimate targets by Russian forces.