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Ukraine updates: Germany approves sending of Leopard 2 tanks

January 25, 2023

Germany has approved the export of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine from its own stocks as well as from third-party allies. The US Wednesday also announced that it will send dozens of M1 Abrams tanks. DW has the latest.

A Leopard 2 battle tank
The battle tanks are expected to give a significant boost to Ukrainian forcesImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit says Berlin intends to deliver 14 Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks from the Bundeswehr's stocks to Ukraine.

Germany is also granting approval for other European countries to send tanks from their own stocks to Ukraine, Hebestreit added.

"The aim is to quickly assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine," he said. 

Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his decision to the Cabinet earlier on Wednesday, having come under pressure from within his three-party coalition to grant the approval.

"This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability," said Scholz in a statement. "We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally."

Speaking to parliament afterward, Scholz defended accusations that he had acted too slowly, saying that Germany could only guarantee security by moving forward with allies.

"I need to explicitly say; it was right and it keeps on being right not to have been pushed forward but to have waited for international cooperation to take place," he said. 

Training of Ukrainian forces on using the tanks will "begin quickly" in Germany, the statement said. It added that Germany's assistance would also include logistics, ammunition, and maintenance for the battle tanks.

Ukrainian reactions to Scholz's tank announcement

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the decision after speaking to Scholz directly. 

"German main battle tanks, further broadening of defense support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz," said Zelenskyy.

"Sincerely grateful to the chancellor and all our friends in Germany," the Ukrainian president said.

Berlin had already been expected to announce an official decision on the export of German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Kyiv. The German government had encouraged allies to start training Ukrainian forces in how to operate the tanks. 

Urgency had grown ahead of expected spring offensives by both sides that could help prove decisive in the direction of the war.

Why the Leopard 2 is the tank of choice

In recent weeks, Western nations have promised to deliver more military machinery to support Ukraine against Russia's invasion. Poland especially has been putting pressure on Germany to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but a US-led meeting in Germany last week failed to come to a conclusion

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned the delivery of the Leopard tanks would "bring nothing good to the future relationship" between Berlin and Moscow. "They will leave a lasting mark," he said. 

Here are other updates on the war in Ukraine on Wednesday, January 25:

Latvia welcomes Germany's decision to send tanks to Ukraine

In an interview with DW, Latvian President Egils Levits welcomed Germany's decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

"I think this is the right decision because Europe's security is in danger," Levits said. 

He also dismissed critics who said it could weaken Europe's own defense capabilities and leave the Baltic states vulnerable. "It is better that we are helping Ukraine now than other countries later," he said. 

Levits said the Baltic states are happy the rest of Europe and NATO stepped up security in the face of Russian aggression.

"We are all in Europe now thinking more about our defense, because we have an aggressive neighbor," he said.

"And if we have an aggressive neighbor, it is natural that we are increasing our defense capabilities," he added. 

US to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced that his government had changed tack and would in fact deliver 31 of the army's M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine.

The decision comes as Germany put aside concerns about supplying its own Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv.

Berlin had pleaded with Washington to make the first move so as not to be seen as going it alone. The delivery of the US tanks, which Washington had warned would be impractical compared to the more easily attainable and operable Leopard 2, will take several months.

NATO chief commends Scholz's decision

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg voiced appreciation for the German decision. 

"At a critical moment in Russia's war, these can help Ukraine to defend itself, win and prevail as an independent nation," he tweeted.

Ukrainian foreign minister urges partners to supply as many tanks as possible

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on all partners to supply it with as many Leopard 2 tanks as they can.

“I call on all new partners that have Leopard 2 tanks in service to join the coalition and provide as many of them as possible. They are free now," Kuleba tweeted.

Ukrainian troops withdraw from Soledar 

Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from Soledar in eastern Ukraine, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military said.

Ukraine's public broadcaster, Suspilne (Public), quoted spokesman Serhiy Cherevaty as saying that, "In order to preserve the lives of service personnel, the Defense Forces withdrew from Soledar."

"[Our forces] fulfilled their main task: not allowing the enemy to systematically break through in the Donetsk direction," Cherevaty added.

Russia claimed it captured the salt-mining town earlier this month, marking its first significant gain following several setbacks. Ukrainian officials denied the reports at the time.

Mlitary analysts have disputed the significance of the capture of the small town for the Russian military, with John Kirby, the communications coordinator for the US National Security Council, saying it would not have a strategic impact on the war itself.

UK welcomes Berlin's change of direction

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says Germany has made the correct decision on supplying tanks to Ukraine.

"The right decision by NATO Allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower," Sunak said on Twitter. "Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace."

The UK government confirmed plans earlier this month to supply Kyiv with 14 British Army Challenger 2 main battle tanks.

Russia's Berlin embassy slams decision

The Russian embassy in Berlin says that, by approving the sending of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Germany has abandoned its historic responsibility to Russia arising from Nazi crimes in World War Two.

"This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about the unwillingness of the Federal Republic of Germany to be drawn into it," Ambassador Sergei Nechayev said.

France welcomes German tank decision

The French presidency has welcomed Germany's decision to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and to allow other states to do the same.

"France welcomes the German decision, which extends and amplifies the support we have provided with the delivery of the AMX10 RC," the Elysee Palace said in a statement, referring to a France-made lighter combat vehicle that Paris is planning to send to Ukraine.

The French government is considering sending its Leclerc tank, which has a 120-millimeter smooth-bore gun.

Spain open to sending Leopards

Madrid has said it is open to providing German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in the wake of Germany's decision to allow experts from third-party countries.

Defense Minister Margarita Robles said Spain would act in coordination with the Western allies helping Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion.

It's believed that Spain has 108 German-made Leopard 2A4 tanks, about half of which are in the North African Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Some 53 are in reserve and would need to be refit, according to the Elcano think-tank.

Spain arrests retiree over letter bombs to PM and Ukrainian Embassy

Authorities in Spain arrested a 74-year-old Spaniard Wednesday in connection to letter bombs sent to the country's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, as well as the Ukrainian Embassy, Spain's Defense Ministry, a Spanish air base and a company supplying grenade launchers to Ukraine.

The man will appear before a Madrid court Friday.

"This person was very active on social networks and according to National Police investigators, he has technical and computer expertise," an Interior Ministry statement read. "Although it is presumed that the detainee made and sent the explosive devices alone, the police do not rule out the participation or influence of other people."
No one was killed by the six letter bombs sent in late November and early December, but a Ukrainian embassy employee was injured opening one of the packages. Kyiv heightened security at its embassies around the world after the incident.
Wednesday's arrest comes just days after a New York Times report that Russian military intelligence officers had "directed" associates of a white supremacist militant group based in Russia to carry out the campaign in Spain. 
US officials told the newspaper that the Russian officers who directed the campaign appeared intent on "keeping European governments off guard" and "may be testing out proxy groups in the event Moscow decides to escalate a conflict."

Investigators suspect the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), a radical group with members and associates across Europe, may be behind the letter bomb campaign. According to Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), RIM "maintains contacts with neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups across Europe."

IOC looking to help Russian athletes compete in Olympics

The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday said it was looking for ways to allow athletes from Russia and Belarus to compete in the upcoming 2024 Paris games. "No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport," read an IOC statement. "A pathway for athletes' participation in competition under strict conditions should therefore be further explored."

The IOC is now considering allowing athletes from the two countries to participate under a neutral flag with no national anthem, nor any markings or colors that would identify their nationality.

IOC President Thomas Bach has often claimed sports should not be politicized and that Russian athletes should not be punished for their country's war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday again voiced opposition to Russian athletes participation at the 2024 games, noting that he spoke of the issue with French President Emmanuel Macron.

UNESCO labels historic Odesa endangered World Heritage Site

The United Nations cultural organization UNESCO on Wednesday expedited proceedings to reclassify the historic center of the Ukrainian port city of Odesa an "endangered" World Heritage Site. The designation enables the city to receive technical and financial assistance to protect and maintain the endangered area.

The cultural center on the Black Sea has been repeatedly targeted by Russian rocket fire and shelling since Moscow launched its war of aggression against neighboring Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Infrastructure and housing blocks in the city have been heavily damaged and locals have sought to protect artworks in place or move them to safety in what has been described as a Russian attempt to erase Ukrainian culture.

Norway considers sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine — reports 

The Norwegian government is exploring the option of sending several of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Oslo-based newspapers Aftenposten and Dagens Naeringsliv reported late on Tuesday.

According to both of the papers, no final decision on sending the heavy battle tanks has yet been made. 

Norway, which borders Russia and is a member state of NATO, could contribute either four or eight of the country's 36 Leopard 2 tanks, Dagens Naeringsliv reported. 

Russian frigate tested strike capabilities in Atlantic

The Russian Defence Ministry said frigate Admiral Gorshkov tested strike capabilities in the western Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday. 

The ministry shared a statement that said the frigate had conducted a computer simulation on hypersonic Zircon missiles. Zircon missiles usually have a range of 900 km. They are able to travel at several times the speed of sound. Defending against them is difficult. The statement did not say the frigate had launched such a missile.

More DW coverage on the war in Ukraine

The head of the Ukrainian Red Cross has told DW that Russian land mines are spread across "significant areas" of the country. He said the mines pose a threat to civilians, humanitarian work and reconstruction efforts. 

The Ukrainian city of Bakhmut once had a population of 73,000. Around 8,000 people are still holding out there, despite offers to evacuate them. Why do they stay? Alexandra Induchova reports from Bakhmut.

A group of scientists and security experts have moved their "Doomsday Clock" to 90 seconds to midnight, their most pessimistic prognosis yet. They published their statement in Russian and Ukrainian for the first time. 

js, rm, los, rc/kb (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)