PARIS, Jan 22 (Reuters) – Germany’s foreign minister said on Sunday her government would not stand in the way of Poland wanting to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, in a possible breakthrough for Kyiv which wants the tanks for its fight against the Russian invasion.
Ukrainian officials have been asking Western allies for months to provide them with modern German-made tanks – but Berlin has so far refrained from sending them or allowing other NATO countries to do so.
Asked what would happen if Poland went ahead and sent its Leopard 2 tanks without German approval, Annalena Baerbock told French LCI television: “For the moment the question has not been asked, but if asked, we would not stand in the way.”
His remarks appeared to go further than German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s comments at a Paris summit earlier on Sunday that all decisions on arms deliveries would be made in coordination with allies including the United States.
Germany came under heavy pressure to let the Leopards go to Ukraine. But Scholz’s Social Democratic party has traditionally been skeptical of military implications and wary of sudden moves that could lead to further escalation in Moscow.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on Sunday he expected a decision on tanks soon, but remained cautious.
Pistorius told ARD TV that Germany would not make a hasty decision because the government had many factors to consider, including the domestic consequences for the security of the German people.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reiterated his longstanding plea for tanks when meeting former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a visit to Kyiv on Sunday.
“We need more weapons: tanks, planes, long-range missiles,” Zelenskiy said, according to a statement posted on his website.
Ukraine says heavily armored Western main battle tanks would give Ukrainian ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive that Kyiv expects in the near future. It would also help Ukraine regain some of the territory that fell to Russia.
After the Paris summit, Scholz told a press conference that all arms deliveries to Ukraine had taken place so far in close coordination with Western partners. “We will do that in the future,” he said.
Speaking at the same press conference, French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine.
Macron said sending tanks must not make the situation worse, must take into account the time needed to train Ukrainians to be effective and must not endanger France’s own security.
“Regarding the Leclercs, I asked the army minister to work on it, but nothing has been ruled out,” Macron said, adding that the move should be coordinated with allies like Germany within days. and the weeks to come.
German sources told Reuters they would allow German-made tanks to be sent to Ukraine to help its defense against Russia if the United States agreed to send its own tanks. But US officials have said President Joe Biden’s administration is not ready to send its own tanks, including the M1 Abrams.
The Kremlin spokesman said on Friday that Western countries providing additional tanks to Ukraine would not change the course of the conflict and would aggravate the problems of the Ukrainian people.
Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Leigh Thomas; Additional reporting by Tom Sims, Lidia Kelly and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by David Holmes, Andrew Heavens and Diane Craft
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