U.S. Army M1A1 Abrams tank fires during NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group military exercise Crystal Arrow 2021 in Adazi, Latvia March 26, 2021.
KYIV/BERLIN--Germany will allow German-made tanks to be sent to Ukraine to help defend against Russia if the United States agrees to send its own tanks, a Berlin government source told Reuters.
Ukraine has pleaded for new modern Western weapons, especially heavy battle tanks, so it can regain momentum this year following some battlefield successes in the second half of 2022 against Russian forces that invaded last February.
Berlin has veto power over any decision to export its Leopard tanks, fielded by NATO-allied armies across Europe and seen by defence experts as the most suitable for Ukraine. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stressed the condition about U.S. tanks several times in recent days behind closed doors, the German government source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
U.S. President Joe Biden's spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about Germany's stipulation, said: "The president believes that each country should make their own sovereign decisions on what steps of security assistance and what kinds of equipment they are able to provide Ukraine."
The Western allies have avoided taking the risk of NATO appearing to confront Russia directly and have not sent Ukraine the most potent weapons available. U.S. officials said Biden's administration is next expected to approve Stryker armoured vehicles for Ukraine produced in Canada for the U.S. Army but is not poised to send U.S. tanks, including the M1 Abrams.
On Thursday, Germany's new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius will host U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Then on Friday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and defence leaders from roughly 50 countries will confer at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the latest in a series of meetings since the invasion, which Moscow calls a "special military operation" to safeguard Russian security.
Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory and to erase the independence of a fellow ex-Soviet republic and neighbour. Western countries have provided a steady supply of weapons to Ukraine.
Attention will be focused on Germany in particular at Friday's meeting. This week, Britain raised the pressure on Berlin by becoming the first Western country to send tanks, pledging a squadron of its Challengers. Polish President Andrzej Duda said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday that it was crucial to provide modern tanks and missiles to Ukraine because he feared Russia was preparing a new offensive. Poland and Finland have already said they will send Leopard tanks if Germany approves them. Ukraine has relied primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants.
Germany's Leopard 2 tank is regarded as one of the West's best. The tank weighs more than 60 tons (60,000 kilograms), has a 120mm smoothbore gun and can hit targets at a distance of up to five kilometres (three miles).
Ukraine says the tanks would give its troops the mobile firepower to drive Russian troops out in decisive battles. In a speech by video link to the Davos forum, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Western supplies of tanks and air defence systems to ward off Russia's frequent missile strikes should come more quickly and be delivered faster than Moscow is able to carry out attacks.
"The supplying of Ukraine with air defence systems must outpace Russia's next missile attacks," Zelenskiy said. "The supplies of Western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks."
In a tweet, Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said it was time for the United States to start supplying Ukraine with ATACMS long-range missiles. "Long-range missiles will allow Ukraine to effectively destroy Russian logistics in the occupied territories: depots in the rear, equipment, command posts ... the time for ATACMS has come. What are we waiting for?" Podolyak asked.