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German defense minister makes unannounced visit to Kyiv

February 7, 2023

Boris Pistorius's surprise trip came as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands pledged over 100 tanks to Ukraine. The new defense minister tried to accentuate the positives of German assistance.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius kneels, looking at a large number of small Ukrainian flags arranged together on a Kyiv street.
Defense Minister Pistorius took office less than a month agoImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

Less than a month after taking office, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius traveled to Ukraine on Tuesday for his first foreign trip in the role.  

He met senior Ukrainian officials including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his counterpart Oleksii Reznikov.

Reznikov shared an image of himself holding a scale model of a German-made Leopard 2 tank next to Pistorius on Twitter, captioning it: "The 'first' Leopard 2 has arrived in Kyiv. There will be more of them." 

European countries also working on Leopard 1 deliveries

Pistorius' appointment as defense minister last month virtually coincided with Germany approving the delivery of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine after a long back and forth on whether this would be possible. 

But on Tuesday, Pistorius said in Kyiv that a group of several European countries were also working on a plan to dispatch more than 100 older Leopard 1A5 models to the country as well. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius in the presidential palace in Kyiv.
Pistorius also spoke with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on his Kyiv tripImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

He said that by the first or second quarter of 2024, a minimum of three battalions should be equipped with such vehicles. He said he hoped the first 20-25 units could be delivered by summer. He didn't say which countries besides Germany were involved. 

At a press conference with Defense Minister Reznikov, Pistorius said these deliveries should hopefully serve "the desire and the hope that Ukraine remains capable of defending itself and withstands this attack." 

The minister said he had seen how the Ukrainian people's will remained unbroken, and said "for that they earn my greatest admiration." 

Pistorius on German weapons deliveries: 'I realize how proud we can be' 

After something of a pattern has emerged on German weapons delivery decisions for Ukraine over the past year — namely a period of uncertainty or reticence followed ultimately by agreement to cooperate — Berlin has faced occasional criticism both from Kyiv and some of its NATO partners

Pistorius was shown another once controversial German weapons donation — the Cheetah (or Gepard in German) anti-aircraft gun tank — in operation in Kyiv. It's stationed in the city to try to intercept potential aerial attacks from Russia. 

Boris Pistorius and Ukrianian soldiers pose next to a German-made 'Cheetah' anti-aircraft tank gun in Kyiv, February 7, 2023.
Pistorius was shown a German-made Cheetah anti-aircraft tank gun in KyivImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

He said it was impressive to see how quickly Ukrainian troops had got to grips with the gear, and how much it was helping defensive operations. He also tried to focus on the positives of what Germany had delivered, more than the long-running debate on it dragging its feet. 

"Above all I realize how proud we can all be, also as Germany. Of what we're achieving here," Pistorius said. "After the US and together with the UK, Germany is Ukraine's biggest supporter." This is true in gross terms, but some European countries, particularly the Baltic states and Poland, have contributed more as a share of their GDP

Pistorius also tried to defend the slower German approach in an interview with domestic media. He said the longer period of consideration on Leopard 2 tank deliveries was justified given the decision's "gravity." Berlin had repeatedly said it did not want to be seen to make such a move alone, and ultimately the deal coincided with pledges of delivery of comparable equipment from the UK and the US. 

"It's of no use to anybody, if it doesn't take place in a considered and agreed manner," he told broadcasters RTL and NTV. He said how quickly Leopard 2's could be delivered physically was the more decisive question. Pistorius has previously said the first 14 units should be available to Ukraine by March, hopefully in time for a possible spring offensive by Russia. 

msh/rt (AFP, dpa)

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