(RFI) Berlin on Wednesday (24) approved the delivery of modern German-made Leopard tanks to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion, after weeks of pressure from Kiev and several allies.
Germany will supply a fleet of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from contingents of the Bundeswehr, Germany’s armed forces, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in a statement.
He also announced approval for other European countries to send tanks from their own contingents to Ukraine, with the aim of quickly assembling “two battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine,” he said.
According to Berlin’s rules on the control of weapons of war, countries using German-made armaments must obtain the government’s permission if they wish to transfer them to third parties.
Kiev had been asking insistently for the sophisticated Leopard tanks, seen as the key to piercing enemy lines.
The package offered by Chancellor Olaf Scholz also provides training of Ukrainian forces in the use of the tanks in Germany, as well as logistics, ammunition, and maintenance of the battle tanks. Scholz faced harsh accusations when he wavered on sending the tanks.
Several other European countries, including Finland and Poland, have said they are ready to provide their stocks.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was leaning toward sending a significant number of Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine.
The Kremlin warned on Wednesday that if Western countries supply heavy tanks to Ukraine, they will be destroyed on the battlefield.
Withdrawal from Soledar
“These tanks burn like all the others. They are very expensive,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The Kremlin’s warning came as a Moscow-backed official said Russian forces advanced on Bakhmut, a town in eastern Ukraine that Russia has been trying to capture for months.
The Ukrainian military also admitted to AFP that its troops had withdrawn from clash-scarred Soledar, northeast of Bakhmut.
Russian forces claimed control of Soledar earlier this month.
Denis Pushilin, Moscow’s top official responsible for the Donetsk region, said the capture “made it possible to block the enemy’s supply routes and partly take over areas of operational control,” from where the Ukrainians attacked Russian positions.
Amid the fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine, Kiev and several of its allies had been asking Germany for weeks to allow the delivery of the Leopard tanks. A meeting convened in Germany last week by the United States with Kiev allies resulted in no decision.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused the Germans on Tuesday of being hesitant and acting in an incomprehensible manner.
However, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said he “expressly encouraged partner countries that have Leopard tanks ready for deployment to train Ukrainian forces in those tanks.”
Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, responded to reports about Washington potentially sending war tanks by saying that such a move would show “the real aggressor in the current conflict.”
“If the United States decides to provide tanks, it will be impossible to justify such a move using arguments about ‘defensive weapons,'” he said, according to a post on the Russian Embassy’s official Facebook page. “This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation.”
In a further show of international support for Ukraine, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he is considering visiting Ukraine at the invitation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I will consider it in light of various circumstances and conditions,” said Kishida, whose country hosts this year’s Group of Seven meeting.
At home, however, Zelensky is struggling with a growing corruption scandal – with his defense ministry rocked by allegations of fraud in food procurement.
Local media reports last week accused the ministry of having signed a deal with prices “two to three times higher” than current prices for basic foodstuffs.
Several officials have resigned over the accusations, including a deputy defense minister, two deputy ministers of development of communities and territories, and a deputy minister of social policy.
Ukraine has a history of endemic corruption, including among the political elite, but efforts to end corruption have been overshadowed by the war.
(with information from AFP) *** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI Team ***