Straining at the leash for ever so too long, Poland finally has officially asked Germany for permission to export a host of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, in a move which reportedly raises pressure on Berlin.
The German Government reportedly told the BBC it had received the request to export 14 German-made tanks on Tuesday.
But it has insisted the final decision lies with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
The BBC reported that Germany’s Foreign Minister Anna Baerbock has said she “would not stand in the way” of Poland if it were to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Ukraine has called on the West to provide the German-made tanks which they say will help them defeat Russia.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the BBC that Germany had the power to “save the lives of many Ukrainian soldiers”.
But Germany is yet to agree, and its export laws have stood in Poland’s way.
On Sunday, Ms. Baerbock said that Poland had not yet asked for export permission.
“For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked, we would not stand in the way,” she told France’s LCI TV.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Monday the government would request authorisation from Berlin.
But he said that Poland would send the tanks to Ukraine, even if it was not granted.
“Even if ultimately, we did not get this consent, within the framework of a small coalition… we will still hand over our tanks, together with others, to Ukraine,” Mr Morawiecki said.
The European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said that Germany would not stop other EU countries exporting Leopard tanks.
He added that discussions of support for Ukraine should not solely revolve around tanks.
In a BBC interview, Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba appealed to all countries willing to send Leopard 2 tanks to “immediately, officially request the German government to allow delivery of these tanks to Ukraine”.
He added: “This is the move that will make the whole situation crystal clear, and we will see where it takes Germany. This is something that needs to be done right away and everything will become obvious.”
Mr. Kuleba also told national television on Monday that he was “confident” Germany would supply the tanks eventually:
“We already received British Challenger. They said it would be impossible… Every time in the end, we obtained the desired result. We will have it this time as well,” he said.
A spokesperson for the German Government said it had not yet received any requests to authorise delivery of the Leopard 2 tanks.
Last week, Morawiecki said that Poland was ready to provide 14 Leopard 2s for Kyiv.
On Monday, the Polish President’s Foreign Policy Adviser, Marcin Przydacz, said that he welcomed Baerbock’s announcement, but would prefer to hear Germany’s position confirmed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“It turns out that through talks and diplomatic actions, Poland is able to change the German position,” Mr. Przydacz told Polish Radio.
However, Poland ultimately wants Berlin and NATO allies to also send their own Leopards, because government officials admit that 14 tanks will have a limited impact on Ukraine’s fighting capacity.
Meanwhile, Speaker of Russia’s Duma lower house of parliament Vyacheslav Volodin warned that the United States and NATO support of Ukraine would risk sparking a “terrible war”, and supplying weapons that Ukraine could use to “strike civilian cities and attempt to seize our territories” would lead to “retaliatory measures using more powerful weapons”.
The Leopard 2 tanks were specifically designed to compete with the Russian T-90 tanks, which are being used in the invasion.
There are believed to be more than 2,000 of them worldwide and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said about 300 of them would help ensure a Russian defeat.
Many allied countries have become frustrated with Germany over its reluctance to send its own Leopard 2 tanks.
Under current regulations, Germany must also sanction any re-export of its tanks by other countries, such as Poland.
Following a meeting of more than 50 allied countries on Friday, Germany had not yet committed to supplying the tanks nor releasing their export licence.
But it denied unilaterally blocking the tanks’ export.
In a joint statement on Saturday the Foreign Ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania told Germany “to provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now”.
Poland’s Prime Minister said that he hoped Germany would quickly respond to the request, and accused Germany of “delaying, dodging, acting in a way that is difficult to understand”.
He also said that Poland would ask the EU to compensate the cost of the tanks it wants to send to Ukraine.
Germany has been hesitant to send them, or allow other nations to do the same, with one of its concerns being that a sudden move could further escalate the conflict with Russia.
On Tuesday Germany’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin had given allied nations the green light to train Ukrainians to use Leopard 2. tanks, but did not commit to sending their own.
Mr. Pistorius said that a decision about supplying the tanks would be made soon.
The military’s Chief of Staff added that any decision would be taken at a political level.
“We are encouraging our partners if they want to, and if they have the opportunity, to start training Ukrainian forces on these Leopard vehicles,” Pistorius said in a news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Allied nations have become frustrated at what they perceive as German reluctance to send the armoured vehicles in recent days.
Speaking on Tuesday, Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said that he was appealing to Germany to “join the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks”.
He added: “This is our common cause, because the security of the whole of Europe is at stake!”
On Tuesday, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said Poland was determined to send their tanks to Ukraine, after meeting the Polish President Andrezej Duda.
“It is a pity that at sometimes there is a completely unnecessary delay as we could have made decisions sooner. The Polish side is very keen to provide such support,” Mr. Nauseda said.
But Pistorius defended the German Chancellor against criticism that he was dragging his feet.
He said: “Taking the lead does not mean blindly going ahead. And if the decision takes another day or two, then that’s just the way it is.”
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