San Francisco Chronicle
Germany moves closer to sending tanks to Ukraine
GENEVA — Following intense pressure from its allies, Germany appears to be inching toward approving deliveries of high-tech Leopard 2 main battle tanks that Ukraine and its biggest Western backers hope will boost Kyiv’s fight against Russian invaders.
Over the weekend, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin would not get in the way if Poland — arguably Ukraine’s most vocal supporter among European Union neighbors — wants to ship Leopard 2 tanks from its arsenal across the border into Ukraine. And Germany is now not ruling out supplying such tanks to Ukraine itself, cautioning however that the implications of such a step need to be carefully weighed.
Here’s what those tanks might mean for Ukraine’s defense against Russian forces — and hopes for driving them out.
Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the manufacturer of the Leopard 2, touts it as “the world’s leading battle tank” that for over nearly a half century has combined aspects of firepower, protection, speed and maneuverability, making it adaptable to many types of combat situations.
The 55-ton tank has a crew of four and a range of about 310 miles, and top speeds of about 42 mph. Its main weapon is a 120mm smooth bore gun and it has a fully-digital fire-control system.
One big appeal of the German-made tanks are their sheer number: More than 2,000 have been deployed in over a dozen European countries and Canada. Overall, KMW says over 3,500 units have been supplied to 19 countries.
Rheinmetall AG, a German defense contractor that makes the 120mm smoothbore gun on the Leopard 2, says the tank has been deployed by “more nations
that any other.”
Ukraine’s defense minister wants 300 tanks, and some European Union leaders support him on that.
“We need a fleet of 300 tanks,” Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said Monday in Brussels, alluding to the wide deployment of Leopards across Europe, and the need for “synchronous” weaponry — that can operate smoothly together.
Getting Leopards into Ukrainian hands isn’t as easy as rolling them across the border from friends farther west in Europe. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that three to six weeks of training would be needed for operating crews and support staff to reach basic proficiency.
Yohann Michel, a research analyst for defense and military affairs at the IISS, said such tanks could allow Ukraine to go onto the offensive in the 11month-old conflict that has been stalemated for months following two key Ukrainian counteroffensives that recaptured areas occupied by Russian forces for months in the northeast and south.
“In this type of conflict, it’s just not possible to carry out large-scale offensives without the full variety of armored combat equipment and armored vehicles, and tanks are a part of that,” he said by phone.
Germany has final say about whether Leopard 2s can be delivered — even from other countries’ arsenals — and has been reticent about anyone shipping them to Ukraine.