German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has agreed to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks, according to media reports, after weeks of pressure from Berlin to give Kyiv the heavy weapons it says Ukraine owes to Russian troops.
Berlin has also given other countries, such as Poland and Finland, permission to send German-made tanks to Ukraine, German media reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed official sources.
Countries that buy weapons from Germany are often required to obtain permission from Berlin before reshipping the weapons to another country.
The newspaper Spiegel first reported on the matter, saying that Germany will supply one company of Leopard 2A6 tanks from the German army, the Bundeswehr.
There was no immediate comment from the German government.
Scholz has spent months up against a growing group of people urging him to send tanks to Kyiv – not only Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy but also NATO allies and members of Scholz’s coalition government.
Zelenskyy took a hard line, saying that Berlin’s foot-dragging was costing Ukrainian lives.
Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane, reporting from Berlin, said the Leopard tanks could give the Ukrainian military an advantage over the Russian military.
“The important thing to remember here is the real advantage of the Leopard 2 main tank is that it is a heavier and faster tank than most of the tanks that the Russian army has in Ukraine,” he said, speaking from Berlin.
“I also believe that many countries of the European Union have some types of Leopard 2 tanks. The point here is clear: There are many of them in the EU and in NATO countries in Europe,” he said.
Germany is one of Ukraine’s biggest military donors. But there is skepticism about the need to send tanks among many Germans who worry that it could draw Germany deeper into the escalating war in Eastern Europe.
Kane said that although the German government is ready to provide Ukraine with armored vehicles and its own anti-aircraft and missile defense system, there was no hesitation in sending the Leopard 2 tank, an offensive weapon.
“Germany has a long history since the Second World War that weighs heavily on the shoulders of the German Chancellor, because he does not want to be seen as directly fighting the Russians,” he said.
A potential game changer
Ukraine has been ordering Western-made tanks for months to fight Russian forces. The front line in eastern Ukraine has not moved for weeks. With the tanks, Ukraine hopes to take back some of the territory it has seized from Russia.
After media reports emerged on Tuesday, officials in Kyiv quickly hailed what they said could be a game-changer in the 11-month-old war.
“A few hundred tanks of our tank crew – the best tank drivers in the world. This is what will be the real threat to democracy against the general rule,” Andriy Yermak, head of Zelenskyy’s office, wrote in the Telegraph.
The German government plays a key role in the delivery of the Leopard and has the power to decide which countries will receive the German-built tanks.
Scholz has said that he should be at risk with the United States, which has not sent its main tanks to Ukraine.
The Wall Street Journal and other US media reported on Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s administration is about to make a change and send its Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
A US government source told Al Jazeera that there will be an announcement at the White House on Wednesday regarding the delivery of the tanks.
An official said the tanks will be purchased with the upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, which provides extended funding for the purchase of weapons and equipment from commercial suppliers. Even so, it may take months or years for the tanks to be deployed.
Experts say that Russia is planning a major offensive in the year, which in Ukraine begins in March.
‘The leopard has been released’
Friedrich Merz, leader of Germany’s conservative Christian Democrats (CDU), has welcomed the government’s move to the centre-left.
“The idea is right,” the CDU chairman told the DPA news agency.
Green Party lawmakers in the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, also welcomed the decision.
“The tiger has been released!” Bundestag Vice President Katrin Goring-Eckardt wrote on Twitter.
“Now I hope that it can quickly help Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression and the independence of Ukraine and Europe.”
Of the 14 European countries that have Leopard tanks, only Finland and Poland have publicly indicated that they want to hand them over to Ukraine.
No Western-made heavy tanks have been supplied to Ukraine to fight against the Russians. The United Kingdom, however, has pledged 14 Challenger tanks.
Meanwhile, Ukraine received only Soviet-made tanks belonging to Eastern European NATO countries.
The number of Leopards Berlin was sending to Ukraine was not immediately known. However, Der Spiegel reported that the decision concerns one company of Leopard 2A6 tanks, which is one of the latest versions. In most cases, equipping a company means providing more than 14 tanks.