Home » Europe gears up to send Western tanks to Ukraine

Europe gears up to send Western tanks to Ukraine

by Mahmmod Shar

By Luke McGee, Saskya Vandoorne, Sebastian Shukla and Lindsay Isaac, CNN

CNN — The Western alliance’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine received a shot in the arm this week as multiple European nations for the first time answered President Volodymyr Zelensky’s longstanding call to supply modern battle tanks to Kyiv.

France, Poland and the United Kingdom have pledged to soon send tanks for the Ukrainian military to use in its efforts to protect itself from Russia. Finland is considering following suit.

Britain plans to send a dozen Challenger 2 tanks and additionally artillery systems as part of efforts to “intensify” support for Ukraine, Downing Street said. Zelensky thanked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners” after the two leaders spoke by phone Saturday.

Speaking alongside Zelensky in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Wednesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda said he hoped tanks from a range of Western allies would “soon sail through various routes to Ukraine and will be able to strengthen the defense of Ukraine.”

The moves have piled pressure on Germany, which last week said it would transfer infantry fighting vehicles to Kyiv but is yet to commit to sending tanks. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has insisted that any such plan would need to be fully coordinated with the whole of the Western alliance, including the United States.

Western officials told CNN said that the decision by some countries but not others to send more tanks was part of a broader assessment of what was happening on the ground in Ukraine. NATO allies have spent recent weeks talking in detail about which countries are best placed to provide specific types of assistance, be it military equipment or money.

13 European countries have Leopard 2 tanks.
13 European countries have Leopard 2 tanks.
Armin Weigel/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

One senior Western diplomat suggested that more countries could increase their levels of military support in the coming weeks as the war enters a new phase, and a fresh Russian offensive could be just around the corner as the anniversary of the invasion approaches.

But Germany’s support is seen as crucial. Thirteen European countries, including Poland and Finland, are in possession of modern German Leopard 2 tanks, which were introduced in 1979 and have been upgraded several times since, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

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While any re-export of the tank by these nations would typically need approval from the German government, Berlin has suggested it would not block their transfer to Kyiv.

Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said Thursday that Berlin would not stand in the way of other countries re-exporting Leopard tanks.

“Germany should not stand in the way of other countries taking decisions to support Ukraine, independent of which decisions Germany takes,” Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said Thursday said on the sidelines of a Greens party meeting in Berlin.

German deputy government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said Friday that it had not received an official request from Poland or Finland.

“There is no question to which we would have to say no. But we’re saying right now that we are in a constant exchange about what is the right thing to do at this point in time and how we best support Ukraine,” Hoffmann told reporters.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is thus far resisting pressure to send German tanks to Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is thus far resisting pressure to send German tanks to Ukraine. Michele Tantussi/Reuters

The Economist reported in December that Ukraine’s top military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny, estimated that 300 tanks were required to repel the Russians. There are reportedly about 2,000 Leopard tanks scattered throughout Europe, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, asserted his confidence in the delivery of the promised tanks from the European partners on Thursday, saying they would arrive “very, very fast” and that the Ukrainian Armed Forces would “master” their use “in a matter of weeks.”

It is not an uncontested decision on the part of NATO members to send the tanks to Ukraine. German diplomats are privately expressing their worry that it signals an intensification of the West’s response to Russia and will be perceived as a provocation in Moscow.

Other European officials contend that the West has already transferred a large number of other cutting-edge weapons that have been used to kill Russians and that it has also generously given Ukraine intelligence. Notably, the US has given Ukraine access to its long-range, cutting-edge HIMARS rocket systems, which have enabled Ukraine to change the course of the war in recent months. Considering this, the officials argue that sending more tanks is not a significant escalation, despite what Moscow may claim.

Although European allies continue to support Ukraine largely in unison, diplomats who spoke to CNN said there is disagreement over whether sending tanks and more weapons is the quickest and most efficient way to end the conflict.

The UK, France, and Poland have each contributed $7.5 billion, $1.5 billion, and $3 billion to Ukraine, respectively, according to the Kiel Institute’s tracker of international aid to the country. With Poland previously sending over 200 Soviet-style tanks, this money is a combination of military, financial, and humanitarian aid.

According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, 74% of Europeans believe that European countries should continue to support Ukraine. This finding indicates that European citizens’ support for doing so is still very strong. As a result, Germany will likely find that it has the necessary political cover to act if it decides to follow France, the UK, and Poland.

In the upcoming days, it is anticipated that the UK and France will keep applying pressure to Germany to join their effort. If they are successful, the three major European powers would be marching in unison as the war approaches its one-year mark.

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