Some push, some procrastinate, and some keep their distance. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is at the center of the dispute over the supply of main battle tanks and is silent. He is he really that isolated?
Berlin – Should Ukraine receive Western-style main battle tanks to push back Russian attackers? Or could this lead to an escalation and dangerous expansion of the war? In Germany, this issue has meanwhile become a tangible coalition dispute. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) is under increasing pressure on the international stage.
When his new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) had to explain to his new colleagues at the US Ramstein airbase on Friday that Germany is still undecided on the tank issue, he did not feel so alone. “There is no unanimous opinion,” he said. “The impression that has occasionally arisen that there is a closed coalition and Germany stands in the way, this impression is incorrect.”
So far, there is only one country that has decided to equip Ukraine with Western-style main battle tanks: Great Britain. 14 examples of the Challenger 2, which has been used by the British armed forces since the mid-1990s, will be delivered to the war zone. Before the Ramstein conference, the British government wanted this decision to be taken as a signal to its allies and hoped that other countries would do the same. “I would like nothing more than to see the Ukrainians armed with Leopard 2s,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said over the weekend. So far, however, the British calculations have not worked.
The top dog is Poland, which has 247 Leopard 2 tanks. Two weeks ago, President Andrzej Duda was quick to announce that he wanted to deliver around 14 copies to Ukraine. Since the tanks come from German production, the federal government must approve the export. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced on Monday that he would officially apply for such permission. This puts the government under more pressure.
Poland is determined to deliver even with a German no. “If the Germans are not in this coalition, we will still move our tanks to the Ukraine together with others,” Morawiecki said. It is not clear which countries these could be. So far only Finland, like Russia’s neighboring Poland, has signaled a willingness to give up some of its 200 or so Leopard 2s. The other states putting enormous pressure on Germany are the three Baltic countries. But you don’t have Leopard 2 yourself.
Because every Leopard 2 delivery to Ukraine must be approved by Germany, Chancellor Scholz has a key role to play. For this reason, supporters of tanks consider him one of the main procrastinators. However, what others criticize as procrastination, he calls sensible. Scholz has always stressed that Germany and NATO must not get involved in this war. Obviously, he sees potential for escalation in the delivery of a main battle tank, and therefore continues to consult with major allies, France and the US.
French President Emmanuel Macron has not yet decided whether he wants to give up his Leclerc tanks. The US would not mind if the European allies delivered Leopard 2 tanks. However, they consider their own M1 Abrams less suitable for a war mission in Ukraine for several reasons: high fuel consumption, long transport routes , supply of spare parts more complicated.
The problem: Scholz always took the latest, qualitatively new steps in arms deliveries together with the Americans. And he definitely wants to stay there.
In addition to Germany, 13 European countries have Leopard 2 tanks. Many of these countries keep a low profile in the debate. For example the Czech Republic. Germany’s neighbor received a Leopard tank from Germany as part of a so-called ring exchange, as compensation for the delivery of Soviet-designed T-72 tanks to Ukraine. However, 13 more will follow and the Czech Republic should have little interest in the fact that they are now awarded mainly to Ukraine.
Another example: Greece has more Leopard tanks than any other country in Europe: around 350 Leopard 2s and 500 Leopard 1s. The government in Athens has no interest in selling tanks because it feels threatened by NATO partner Turkey. Therefore, Athens prefers to keep a low profile in the discussion on the supply of main battle tanks to Ukraine.
The provisional outcome of the debate is exactly what Russia wants: Western disunity. dpa