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Unnamed European country buys Leopard 1 tanks for Ukraine

August 9, 2023

An undisclosed European government has bought dozens of second-hand tanks that once belonged to Belgium, according to the weapons dealer who sold them. The vehicles are to be stripped, repaired and then sent to Ukraine.

Three Leopard 1 tanks on maneuvers
It could take up to six months for the tanks to arrive on the battlefield in UkraineImage: Thomas Imo/photothek/picture alliance

German weapons maker Rheinmetall is preparing to send about 30 Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine on behalf of an unspecified European government, according to several media reports.

Rheinmetall acquired 50 Leopard 1 tanks from the Belgian company OIP Land Systems. Some of the tanks are earmarked for repair, while the others are to be cannibalized for spare parts.

What do we know about the deal?

Ahead of their use on the battlefield, the vehicles will be re-equipped at the German locations of the Düsseldorf group, according to Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper.

More than two dozen of the 50 main battle tanks are expected to be delivered to Ukraine, although this may take several months.

Who bought the Leopard 1 tanks for Ukraine?

The chief executive of OIP Land Systems, Freddy Versluys, said a confidentiality clause in the purchase deal prohibited him from naming the country that bought the 50 tanks he had as well as how much they cost. However, in a LinkedIn post, he said the sum he received was reasonable.

"The fact that [the tanks] leave our company proves that we asked for a fair market price and someone was more than happy to take them," Versluys said in his post, accompanied by a picture of tanks next to a bottle of Ukrainian vodka.

Warehouse full of tanks stirs debate in Belgium

"I am glad they will finally join the fight for freedom," the post added.

While the national government buying the tanks was not named, a defense source told the news agency Reuters that the German government was behind the move.

Earlier this year, Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder said the government had considered buying a consignment of Leopard 1 tanks but accused the private company that owned them of trying to make a "huge profit."

Versluys denied that the Belgian government had approached him at the time.

With Western governments seeking weapons to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia — arms they previously discarded as obsolete are now in high demand. They are also often in the hands of private companies.

Where did the tanks come from?

Versluys bought the tanks from the Belgian government more than five years ago for about €37,000 each (about $40,500).

The Leopard 1 battle tank is the forerunner of the Leopard 2 currently used by Germany's military, the Bundeswehr. It is lighter and less powerful than its successor, and the machines sold by Versluys were last upgraded in the 1990s.

Edited by: Sean Sinico

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Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.