German news magazine Der Spiegel and others published stories on Tuesday evening saying that the government in Berlin had decided to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
This follows a long-running debate on the issue among NATO allies, and comes after Poland formally asked Berlin for permission to send some of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine earlier on Tuesday.
Spiegel magazine reported that the decision would involve sending at least one company of Leopard 2A6 tanks.
Spiegel attributed its information to government sources but did not identify them. Broadcaster ntv issued a similar report, and the dpa news agency later said its "coalition sources" had said the same. But the government did not immediately comment publicly on the reports.
German-made military equipment can only be sent to third countries with approval from Berlin. Spiegel reported that other European countries, including some in Scandinavia, would also supply their tanks to Kyiv.
Although Germany's Defense Ministry, military, and several other actors would surely have been involved in discussions, ultimately the authority to make this decision rests with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
New defense minister hinted at movement earlier on Tuesday
On Tuesday morning, at a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Berlin, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said, "I am expecting a decision to be reached shortly" when it came to exporting Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
Pistorius said that various preparatory work had already begun to facilitate such exports should they be approved, tackling issues like ordnance, maintenance and repairs, and training Ukrainian troops to operate them.
"We are already preparing ourselves for all of that," said Pistorius, who was only sworn in last Thursday following his predecessor's resignation. "And for the event of a positive decision, we will then be capable of acting very quickly."
A decision or some form of announcement on this had been expected in some corners at last week's meeting of NATO and other countries' defense ministers at the US military air base in Ramstein in Germany, but it did not materialize. That was Pistorius' second official day in the role.
The news also coincides with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the US would consider sending some comparable M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
One reason Germany had given for its reticence was not wanting to be seen as "going it alone" within NATO.
Britain is also sending comparable Challenger battle tanks to Ukraine, and France is said to be considering a similar step.
Similar pattern to other German weapons exports
Germany's approach to sending weaponry to Ukraine has come up for criticism among some allies since the war in Ukraine broke out.
That is primarily because of Germany's restrictive policies on exporting weapons to hot conflicts that have largely applied since the country's defeat in World War II.
The country has undone several principles or rules it typically held to in post-war years to support Ukraine.
However, doing so has typically taken time, often more time than other NATO allies have needed.
Similar debates took place first over sending items to Ukraine that were potentially lethal (initial German offers were for non-lethal equipment like helmets, night-vision goggles, tents and so forth), and then over an array of other military equipment, from ground-to-air defense systems to armored vehicles like the Marder personnel carriers, among other things.
Ukraine and several of Germany's NATO allies have called on Berlin to act faster at times. In Berlin on Tuesday, NATO's Stoltenberg sought to focus on those deliveries that had materialized, saying that German weapons were "saving lives every day in Ukraine."
But Stoltenberg urged this to continue, saying: "The only way to a lasting peace lies in making it clear to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that he will not win on the battlefield."
Pistorius also looked to address this on Tuesday, saying the tank dispute risked distracting from what Germany was delivering, saying it was equipment worth roughly €3.3 billion (around $3.5 billion) in total.
"That is getting lost at the moment because of the discussion about tank deliveries and tank operations," Pistorius said. "Only the United Kingdom is also dealing with figures in that region, besides [the leading donor] the United States."
First political reactions come in before confirmation
Although the government was yet to confirm the decision on Tuesday evening, the first political responses from allies and opposition parties alike were already trickling in ready for publication in Wednesday's newspapers based on the reports.
Ukraine's former ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, took to Twitter saying: "Hallelujah! Jesus Christ! And now, dear allies, let's establish a powerful fighter jet coalition for Ukraine..." listing various modern NATO models he'd like to include.
The chair of the defense policy committee in the Bundestag, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the Free Democrats, said "the decision was arduous, it lasted much too long, but in the end it was inevitable."
A leading Green party politician, from the other coalition ally to Scholz's Social Democrats, Kathrin Göring-Eckardt picked up on the "FreeTheLeopards" slogan that had been circulating on social media, writing in English: "The leopard's freed!" She said she hoped it would quickly prove itself useful to Ukraine.
The leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, Friedrich Merz, said the decision was correct but accused Scholz of having "hesitated too long."
Only the far-left and far-right opposition forces in the Bundestag objected to the decision at first. Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), said it risked drawing Germany "directly into the war." And the parliamentary caucus leader of the Left party, Dietmar Bartsch, told dpa the decision meant "another taboo has fallen" that had more potential to "lead towards a third world war than towards peace in Europe."
One prominent German security observer, Ulrike Franke, wrote on Twitter that she was surprised to see this decision so soon after the Ramstein meeting of defense ministers less than a week ago. She has criticized Germany's government for a pattern of slow approval on such questions in recent months, often following a period of pressure where Berlin would stress it had not yet taken such a decision.
Franke, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, wrote in response to the news, "How and why was it impossible to make this happen for Ramstein? Sooo much broken porcelain to in the end arrive here."
msh/nm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)