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Ukraine updates: Poland asks German permission to send tanks

January 24, 2023

Poland has sent a formal request for Berlin to allow the transfer of German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. Unconfirmed reports say Germany will grant permission for the transfer. Follow DW for more.

Three Leopard 2 tanks
The tanks are deeemed to be the best suited to helping Ukraine achieve battlefield successImage: Philipp Schulze/dpa/picture-alliance

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak on Tuesday said his country had officially requested permission from Germany to transfer its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to help repel Russia's invasion.

Berlin is under pressure to supply state-of-the-art Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, or at least to sign off on delivery of the German-made heavy armor from third-party countries.

"The Germans have already received our request for consent to the transfer of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine," Blaszczak tweeted.

"I also appeal to the German side to join the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks. This is our common cause because it is about the security of the whole of Europe!''

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki later said he would ask the European Union to reimburse the cost of the tanks, which he called "another test of good will."

The German government confirmed it had received the request, with a spokesperson saying, "We will treat the proceedings with the urgency they deserve," and that a decision would be made "shortly."

Later, German media reported that Berlin had decided to send Kyiv Leopard 2 battle tanks, and would allow other countries to do the same. However, there was no official confirmation from the government.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Tuesday morning that Berlin still had yet to decide on the delivery of combat tanks to Ukraine. 

"There is no news that I can deliver at this point. I have said that shortly a decision will be made and I can only assume that will be the case," Pistorius told reporters.

Pistorius said Germany had no objection to the training of Ukrainian soldiers on its Leopard vehicles but did not say that Germany had yet agreed to allow their deployment.

However, he did say Berlin would act quickly if there was a positive decision to do so.

Pistorius, who was appointed defense minister last week after the resignation of his predecessor Christine Lambrecht, has previously said any decision must come from the office of Chancellor Olaf Scholz. 

Pistorius was facing reporters in Berlin alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who called for providing more advanced systems to Ukraine.

"I, therefore, welcome our discussion today," Stoltenberg said. "We discussed the issue of battle tanks. Consultations among allies will continue and I'm confident we will have a solution soon."

Defense Minister Pistorius: Germany won't block allies from delivering tanks to Ukraine

Here are other updates on the war in Ukraine on Tuesday, January 24:

US concerned over Chinese assistance to Russia

The White House suspects Chinese companies are providing non-lethal assistance to Russia for its war on Ukraine, Reuters news agencyreports. 

A source familiar with the matter said Biden administration officials are communicating their concerns to the Chinese government. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source told Reuters, "What we're seeing is non-lethal military assistance and economic support that stops short of wholesale sanctions evasion."

Reuters could not verify the statements.

The US previously warned the Chinese government of consequences should it provide arms to Russia for its war of aggression against Ukraine.

According to the source, US officials say that despite being "concerning," the current situation is "a significantly scaled-down version of the PRC's [People's Republic of China] initial plan, which was to sell lethal weapons systems for use on the battlefield." 

Wagner Group head seeks law to punish 'discrediting' fighters

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the founder of the Wagner Group, a private militia active in Ukraine and Africa, has asked Russia's parliament, the Duma, to make it illegal for people to "discredit" his fighters.

Prigozhin requested the Duma amend existing laws about negative media reporting to make disparaging comments about Wagner Group fighters punishable by up to five years in jail.

The letter of request was submitted to Vyacheslav Volodin, a hardline Putin supporter and the chair of the lower house of parliament. Volodin has already called for changing laws to make it possible to seize the assets and property of any Russians who criticize the country or its armed forces from abroad. 

Prigozhin bemoaned the fact that "certain media, bloggers and Telegram channels" portrayed Wagner fighters as "bad guys and criminals." 

Wagner, which has been involved in some of the fiercest fighting in Ukraine, has recruited heavily from Russia's vast prison populations, offering full pardons — even for life sentences — to those recruits who survive six months of frontline fighting.

German FM calls for Western unity: 'We're fighting Russia, not each other'

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday made a plea for Western unity, telling the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, "We're fighting a war against Russia, not against each other."

Speaking in Strasbourg, the German minister said, "Yes, we have to do more to defend Ukraine. Yes, we have to do more, also on tanks." 

Germany has come under pressure from Ukraine and allies over its repeated hesitancy to deliver heavy arms to Kyiv as it defends itself against invading Russian forces.

Baerbock sought to focus on issues beyond arms deliveries in her address, instead imploring partner nations to do "more for humanitarian aid," as well as laying the groundwork to ensure those responsible for the conflict be brought to justice before a court of law.

Finnish president visits Ukraine surveys damage

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Tuesday surveyed war damage near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. 

After his first visit since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Niinisto tweeted a statement reading that the atrocities carried out in Ukraine, especially those committed in Borodianka and Bucha "must not go unpunished." 

In Kyiv, the Finnish president met with counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, where the two discussed the possibility of Finland supplying German-made Leopard 2 tanks. 

Finland is the only non-NATO country with Leopards in its arsenal. Niinisto made reference to the fact that his country shares a long border with Russia. 

After Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Finland and neighboring Sweden reversed decades of military policy by formally requesting NATO membership — a process that has been held up single-handedly by Turkey, which is seeking to wring concessions from Sweden in return for its consent on membership. 

US appears to shift views on sending M1 tanks to Ukraine

Reports from Washington claim the United States may be dropping its opposition to the idea of supplying M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. 

Anonymous sources told Reuters news agency the decision to send tanks could come by the end of the week. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported "a large number" of tanks could be involved.

Until now, the Biden administration has argued that the M1 is too complicated to be used effectively. Moreover, the Pentagon pointed to the fact that they would have to be transported across the Atlantic and that unlike the Leopard — which runs on Diesel — the M1 runs on expensive aviation fuel.

Still, Germany has forced the issue, blaming its own hesitancy to endorse exports of Leopard 2 tanks on a lack of desire to be the first western country to send tanks — while at the same time urging Washington to take a lead Berlin could follow.   

Czech foreign minister calls for tougher sanctions on Russia 

The European Union should impose tougher sanctions on Russia's technology and arms sectors, the Czech Republic's Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said in an interview with Reuters.

"We need to be looking for new and creative ways of how to make our sanctions stronger... how to decrease [Russia's] ability to produce weapons, rockets used for shelling Ukraine's critical infrastructure," said Lipavsky. 

Belgium has opposed a ban on the diamond trade with Russia, while Hungary has opposed a ban on nuclear cooperation.

Lipavsky conceded that these two points of disagreement meant the EU was unlikely to reach a consensus for wider-ranging sanctions.

In the same interview, Lipavsky joined the chorus of foreign officials calling for Germany to allow other countries to deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Russia says German tank deliveries would damage ties

Russia has warned Germany against delivering Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, saying "nothing good" would come of it.

"These deliveries would bring nothing good to the future relationship," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday. "They will leave a lasting mark."

Ukrainian officials resign amid corruption allegations

Several senior Ukrainian officials have stepped down on Tuesday amid allegations of corruption.

They include Ukraine's deputy defense minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who was reportedly linked to a scandal involving the purchase of food for the military, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the president's office who was linked to the embezzlement of aid last year, and deputy prosecutor general Oleksiy Symonenko, who has been at the center of a scandal related to a holiday in Spain.

Five regional governors were also dismissed on Tuesday, cabinet head Oleh Nemchinov announced on Telegram.

In his nightly video address on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the war would not distract his government's attention from tackling corruption

FDP accuses Scholz of hesitating over tanks

The defense spokesperson for Germany's pro-business Free Democrats party has accused Chancellor Olaf Scholz of hesitating about sending units of the Leopard 2 main battle tank to Ukraine.

"We don't understand why Chancellor Scholz has such a problem in sending main battle tanks from Germany. We have sent so much stuff.  We have sent jeeps out. We have sent howitzers, we have sent air defense," the FDP's Alexander Müller told DW on Tuesday.

"We don't know the reason why Scholz, our chancellor, is hesitating so much."

FDP's defense spokesperson 'quite sure' Germany will send Ukraine tanks

Berlin has been under mounting pressure recently to send the Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and to allow other countries to send their own German-made tanks.

Müller said, however, he is "quite sure" Germany will end up sending tanks.

More DW coverage on the war in Ukraine

After Russia declared a partial military mobilization in September last year, many military-aged men fled the country. DW spoke with three young Russian men who found refuge in Istanbul.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has arrived in South Africa ahead of three-way military drills with China. DW looks at Russia's deepening military ties with countries around Africa.

js,zc,rc/kb (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)