Germany confirms it will provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks

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Olaf Scholz pictured at cabinet meetingImage source, EPA
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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the decision after weeks of reluctance and international pressure

After weeks of reluctance, Germany has agreed to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, in what Kyiv hopes will be a game-changer on the battlefield.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the decision to send 14 tanks - and allow other countries to send theirs too - at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

US President Joe Biden's administration is also expected to announce plans to send at least 30 M1 Abrams tanks.

A Kremlin spokesman earlier said the tanks would "burn like all the rest".

Dmitry Peskov said there was an overestimation of the potential the tanks would bring to the Ukrainian army, and called the move a "failed plan".

But Ukrainian officials insist they are urgently in need of heavier weapons, and say sufficient battle tanks could help Kyiv's forces seize back territory from the Russians.

A German government spokesperson said the decision to supply the tanks "follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability".

Germany also permitted other countries to send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine - which was restricted until now under export regulations.

The US and Germany had resisted internal and external pressure to send their tanks to Ukraine for some time.

Washington cited the extensive training and maintenance required for the high-tech Abrams.

Germans endured months of political debate about concerns that sending tanks would escalate the conflict and make Nato a direct party to the war with Russia.

US media is reporting that an announcement regarding Abrams shipments to Ukraine could come as soon as Wednesday, with unnamed officials cited as saying at least 30 could be sent.

However the timing remains unclear, and it could take many months for the US combat vehicles to reach the battlefront.

German officials had reportedly been insisting they would only agree to the transfer of Leopard 2s to Ukraine if the US also sent M1 Abrams.

"If the Germans continue to say we will only send or release Leopards on the conditions that Americans send Abrams, we should send Abrams," Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a Biden ally, told Politico on Tuesday.

Britain has already said it will send Challenger Two tanks to Ukraine.

Ukraine is still unlikely to get the 300 modern main battle tanks it says it needs to win the war.

But if half a dozen Western nations each provide 14 tanks, then that would bring the total to nearly 100 - which could make a difference.

Western tanks - including the UK's Challenger 2, Germany's Leopard 2 and the US-made Abrams - are all seen as superior to their Soviet-era counterparts, like the ubiquitous T-72.

They will provide Ukrainian crews with more protection, speed and accuracy.

But Western modern main battle tanks are not a wonder weapon or game-changer on their own. It's also what's being supplied alongside them.

In recent weeks, there's been a step change in heavy weapons being supplied by the West - including hundreds more armoured vehicles, artillery systems and ammunition.

Combined together, they are the kind of military hardware needed to punch through Russian lines and to retake territory.

If Ukrainian troops can be trained and the weapons delivered in time, they could form key elements of any spring offensive. A missing element for offensive operations is still air power.

Ukraine has been asking for the West to provide modern fighter jets since the war began. So far, none has been delivered.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the liberal FDP party, who chairs the defence committee of the German parliament had previously described reports that Germany had approved the tanks as a relief to "the battered and brave Ukrainian people."

"The decision was tough, it took far too long, but in the end it was unavoidable," she said.

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Watch: Poland's PM: "Free world cannot afford not to send Leopard tanks"

Allied nations had become frustrated at what they perceived as German reluctance to send the armoured vehicles in recent days.

The Ukrainian president's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, on Tuesday called on Western countries to give Kyiv hundreds of tanks to form a "crushing fist" against Russia.

"Tanks are one of the components for Ukraine to return to its 1991 borders," he wrote on Telegram.

Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to Washington, wrote on Telegram: "If the United States decides to supply tanks, then justifying such a step with arguments about 'defensive weapons' will definitely not work.

"This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation."