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BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is delaying a final decision on whether Ukraine should receive high-end tanks for its fight against Russia, despite pressure from several other senior officials, according to four people familiar with the deliberations.
The plan, pushed by Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock – both senior members of the Green Party – would involve about 100 tanks. It comes amid growing acceptance in Berlin and other western capitals that Russia’s war in Ukraine could drag on for months or years, and with Kyiv asking directly for such equipment.
A decision on the matter was initially expected this week. But it is now in limbo as the Social Democrat chancellor – much to the frustration of his ruling coalition partners – argues that Germany should first reach a common position with Western allies on the issue before delivering such heavy military equipment, officials said.
“We’re doing everything that’s right and sensible,” the Chancellor told the Bundestag on Wednesday when asked about tank deliveries. But Scholz added that it was important to him that the EU and NATO partners coordinate “that we provide such military support in the same way and that nobody pushes ahead – not even Germany”.
He added: “I believe that it would be a serious mistake, especially on this issue, if Germany were to take a special role and take a special path.”
NATO foreign ministers discussed military support for Ukraine on Wednesday and Thursday, but made no specific statements about tank supplies.
Earlier, German officials had ruled out the delivery of more complex Western military equipment, such as tanks, to Kyiv – despite Berlin’s historic February decision to ship anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine – on the grounds that it would take weeks or months to train Ukrainian soldiers to use them .
However, as it looked like the war was likely to last longer, officials said they had begun considering battlefield supplies that Ukraine could use at a later date. Russia is currently regrouping, withdrawing forces from Kyiv and likely planning a major offensive in eastern Ukraine in the coming weeks, according to Western officials.
The chancellor’s hesitation has provoked violent counter-reactions from his coalition partners, the Greens and the FDP. While cabinet members have so far refrained from public criticism — Baerbock has only hinted to reporters that she supports the delivery of more advanced weapons systems — lawmakers have been more open.
The chairman of the Bundestag’s Europe Committee, Anton Hofreiter, of the Greens, said it was important that Germany show “leadership” in the EU and NATO and not hide behind other countries.
“I am in favor of repealing the federal cabinet’s decision not to supply heavy weapons as soon as possible,” Hofreiter told POLITICO.
Also Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann from the FDP, chairwoman of the defense committee of the Bundestag pushed Scholz in an interview with the Stuttgarter Zeitung to “quickly” approve the delivery of tanks. Leading lawmakers from the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the main opposition party, have also been pushing for the supply of tanks.
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bundestag, Social Democrat Michael Roth, supported the Chancellor’s argument: “We need an understanding within NATO about the delivery of heavy equipment such as tanks.”
However, he indicated that he would like Germany to find a way to move forward with the plan: “What Ukraine needs right now has to be delivered.”
While the Czech government has reportedly already sent Soviet-era tanks and armored personnel carriers to Ukraine identical to models already used by the Ukrainian army, the German tanks would mark a new tier of Western heavy weaponry in the war.
Germany is specifically considering sending Marder light tanks, armored vehicles with anti-tank missiles. German arms group Rheinmetall has signaled it could supply 100 such tanks, which are currently at the company’s premises, officials said.
Politicians are also discussing whether Berlin could also deliver its world-class, powerful “Leopard” tanks to Ukraine. “According to reports, Rheinmetall not only has martens lying around, but also heavier weapons,” said Hofreiter from the Greens.
The Ambassador of Ukraine in Germany, Andriy Melnyk, told Deutschlandfunk on Thursday, Kyiv “expects” Berlin to deliver Marder and Leopard tanks as well as the “Gepard” anti-aircraft tank.
“The lists are there, the federal government knows about them, but unfortunately they are silent to this day,” said Melnyk.
However, there are logistical problems: Germany would have to train Ukrainian soldiers to handle these tanks, teach mechanics how to maintain them and ensure supplies of ammunition and spare parts, officials said.
Strack-Zimmermann warned that such steps are not possible on Ukrainian soil “because then we would be a war party under international law”. Foreign Minister Baerbock said earlier this week that Berlin was trying to solve “technical problems with the supply and use” of more advanced weapons for Kyiv.
Another practical problem: Since most of the tanks on the Rheinmetall site are decommissioned military equipment, they would have to be refurbished before being shipped to the Ukraine. A remedy could be to send identical Bundeswehr models to Ukraine instead and later replace the Bundeswehr tanks with the refurbished ones.
But a German defense ministry official, led by Scholz’s SPD colleague Christine Lambrecht, warned that such a move could affect Germany’s immediate military capabilities within the NATO alliance.
Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute think tank in Berlin, demanded that Germany, which has been criticized for its opposition to tougher energy sanctions on Russia for its dependence on Russian gas, should compensate by supplying tanks.
“I think it is of central importance for German credibility that we don’t put the brakes on everywhere, but that there is also an area where we lead,” he said. “And especially if it is currently impossible for Germany to stop the gas payments, which bring in billions for Putin, for the foreseeable future, then battle tanks would be a good alternative.”
https://www.politico.eu/article/scholz-holds-up-german-tank-delivery-to-ukraine/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Scholz stops German tank deliveries to Ukraine - POLITICO