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Ukraine says German battle tanks 'essential for survival'

January 15, 2023

Kyiv's top diplomatic envoy in Berlin says his country needs German-made Leopard 2 tanks to fight Russia as soon as possible. But an arms maker said it could take until 2024 for its tanks are ready for export.

German soldiers stand in front of a German Army Leopard 2 tank from NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group
The German army has only around 350 Leopard 2 tanks, compared to some 4,000 battle main tanks at the height of the Cold WarImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

Ukraine's ambassador in Berlin, Oleksii Makeiev, urged the German government to provide his country with Leopard 2 battle tanks quickly.

"German weapons, German tanks are essential for survival," he told Germany's dpa news agency.

"We have very little time for discussions. And we expect our allies to understand that and act appropriately," he added.

Germany faces renewed pressure to give Ukraine some of its coveted Leopard 2 tanks after the United Kingdom announced Saturday it would send Challenger 2 tanks to bolster the country's war effort.

Makeiev's call also comes only days before a meeting of defense ministers from Ukraine's Western allies at the US Ramstein air base in western Germany to discuss further military support for the fight against Russia.

"We are not asking for German soldiers or Amercian soldiers, only weapons," Makeiev said.

Oleksii Makeiev, the Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin, said Kyiv is counting on the delivery of battle tanks from Germany to help it repel Russian forces
Makeiev said Ukraine was fighting a "proxy war" on behalf of all its allies and it needs weapons to stay in the fightImage: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/picture alliance

Finland and Poland to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

Germany has become one of Ukraine's top military supporters, and earlier this month, agreed to join the US and France in sending armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine.

The German government has so far been hesitant to transfer Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, saying it would only do so if there is agreement among Kyiv's main allies, particularly the United States.

"German air defense systems help us to strike down the missiles, and the German tanks will help us to free more territory. And there will be fewer atrocities carried out there by the Russians," Makeiev said. "German weapons save lives."

Poland and Finland were prepared to supply German-made Leopard 2 tanks as part of a European alliance.

A German government spokesperson, however, said on Friday it had yet to receive an official request from the countries to export the tanks to Ukraine. They'll need Germany's permission or risk violating re-export rules.

"Germany should not stand in the way of other countries taking decisions to support Ukraine, independent of which decisions Germany takes," German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said on Thursday.

'Growing chorus of voices' call for Leopard export approval

German Leopard tanks for Ukraine won't be ready until 2024 

German arms maker Rheinmetall could deliver refurbished Leopard battle tanks from its stock in 2024 at the earliest.

"Even if the decision is made tomorrow that we are allowed to send our Leopard tanks to Kyiv, delivering them will take until the beginning of next year," Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Rheinmetall has 22 Leopard 2 tanks and 88 of the older Leopard 1 model in stock but requiring repairs, which would cost several hundred million euros.

"The vehicles must be completely dismantled and rebuilt," Papperger added.

Germany's defense industry is banned by law from producing tanks for stock-keeping, and even if production were sped up, it could take two years until new were ready for use.

lo/sms (dpa, Reuters)