Ukraine: Will it receive German tanks? | TSWT | 21.09.2022

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Next Thursday is the time for the confrontation in the German federal parliament, the Bundestag: lawmakers will debate German aid to Ukraine. And there is evidence that a majority is in favor of providing modern tanks – something Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his Social Democratic party appear reluctant to do.

The main opposition party, the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), are filing a motion for the delivery of Western-designed battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles from industrial supplies to Ukraine.

The motion, titled “Defense of peace and freedom in Europe – now resolutely support Ukraine with heavy weapons”, will be discussed in the Bundestag this Thursday. A vote could reveal cracks in the governing coalition, as many Greens and neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) deputies are also in favour.

Impact of developments on the battlefield

In a surprise announcement in mid-September, the German Defense Ministry said it would deliver 50 armored Dingo transport vehicles to Ukraine. They were said to protect Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines from Russian fire.

Ukraine has been calling for months to use Western tanks in its fight against the Russian attackers. After Kiev’s most recent military success in the northeast of the country, the war in Ukraine is entering a new phase.

“Ukraine does not currently have the equipment to successfully counterattack, especially in this vast, vast grassland area. That is why Ukraine is seeking so much help with main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers,” Nico Lange, analyst at the Munich Security Conference and expert on Eastern Europe told TSWT.

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Pressure on Germany to supply more heavy weapons to Ukraine is mounting.

Ukrainian army has recaptured territory in the east and southeast of the country

But in mid-September, Inspector General of the Bundeswehr Eberhard Zorn, Germany’s highest-ranking soldier, downplayed Ukraine’s military success in the northeast of the country in an interview with Focus news magazine. “I’m careful about using such terms,” ​​Zorn said, referring to the Ukrainian military’s counter-offensive that has been praised by the US and UK. In the same interview, Zorn warned of Russian attacks on the Baltic states or Finland.

Former commander of US forces in Europe, Ben Hodges, called Zorn’s statements a “stunningly poor analysis of Russia’s capabilities”. According to Hodges, who lives in Germany, Finland would only crush Russian troops in their current state. And Lithuania and Poland, which border the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea coast, could “suffocate” it “within a week.” Most Western analysts agree with the US general.

Within the German government, the reluctant Social Democrats (Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party) are under increasing pressure from their coalition partners – the Greens and Free Democrats (FDP). In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper,

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Greens said: “At this decisive phase Ukraine is now in, I do not see this as a decision that should be postponed for a long time.” In any case, the delivery of “modern battle tanks” such as the Leopard 2 can only be decided jointly “in a coalition and internationally,” Baerbock said.

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She has consistently spoken out in favor of solidarity with Ukraine.

This sounds a lot like a proposal from the Berlin-based think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) for a “Leopard 2 plan” that is currently circulating in the German capital.

Under that plan, European countries stocking Leopard 2 would have to form a group to supply Ukraine with 90 battle-ready tanks. “After supporting Ukraine’s urban defensive struggle and bolstering its long-range strike capability, they must equip its armed forces for maneuver warfare. Heavy armor will be crucial in this next phase of the war,” analysts Gustav Gressel, Rafael Loss and Jana Puglierin wrote.

The German government would have to create a “consortium of European Leopard 2 users” for this. According to the report’s authors, 12 European armies and Turkey have more than 2,000 different Leopard 2 tanks between them.

For Nico Lange of the Munich Security Conference, “an association of several European countries that have Leopard 2 battle tanks” could be a way to support Ukraine “on an equal footing” with the US. So far, Washington has delivered by far the most arms to Ukraine.

Olaf Scholz and an instructor on top of a Gepard tank

Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited the training site for Ukrainian soldiers in Germany

German arms deliveries to date

Berlin is reluctant to provide exact figures showing that it has supplied state-of-the-art weapons systems. In addition to 50 Dingo armored personnel carriers, Ukraine is said to have received an unspecified number of Cobra artillery radar systems and Iris-T air defense systems.

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The German Defense Ministry was more precise when it came to the delivery of 20 anti-aircraft “Gepard” tanks, for which Berlin received recognition from the US and Ukraine.

The Ukrainian soldiers who will operate the tanks were trained in Germany during the European summer. According to the ministry, work is currently underway to deliver another 10 Gepard tanks.

Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, of Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), also announced that Germany would send two more Mars II multiple rocket launchers, including 200 rockets.

Germany is currently working on a military stock list with more than two dozen items on it. A majority will come directly from German arms producers, not from Bundeswehr stocks. These include armored recovery vehicles, bridge-building tanks, as well as hundreds of trucks and trailers.

According to the federal government, between January 1 and September 19 of this year, Germany approved arms exports to Ukraine worth more than EUR 733 million.

This article was originally written in German.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, TSWT editors round up what’s happening in German politics and society. You can sign up for the weekly Berlin Briefing email newsletter here.

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