(Bloomberg) -- Germany pledged to supply Ukraine with more than 100 Leopard 2 battle tanks in a joint effort with European allies, providing Kyiv’s forces with a significant upgrade in the firepower they can deploy against their Russian invaders.
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In a first step, Germany will make a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks available from stocks held by its armed forces, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government said Wednesday in an emailed statement. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters in Berlin that the first German tanks could arrive in Ukraine within three months, possibly too late to counter a Russian offensive that defense officials have warned could come as soon as next month.
The aim is for German and its partners to supply two battalions totaling 112 Leopards and the government in Berlin will give allies the required authorization to supply their tanks, according to the statement. The package includes training in Germany for Ukrainian troops, logistics, ammunition and maintenance.
“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability,” Scholz said. “We are acting in a way that is closely agreed and coordinated internationally.”
The Biden administration is expected to join the tanks alliance and announce as soon as Wednesday that it will offer Ukraine its main battle tank, the M1 Abrams. The move would signal Washington had dropped its resistance, which it justified by arguing that the vehicle consumes too much fuel and is difficult to operate.
The German decision to ship the Leopards is the latest step in a radical overhaul of German defense policy triggered by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine 11 months ago. Until then, Germany refused to send weapons to conflict zones and had allowed its armed forces to deteriorate during decades of underinvestment.
Immediately after the invasion, Scholz announced the creation of a special fund worth €100 billion ($109 billion) on top of the regular defense budget and said Germany would lift military spending to meet a NATO goal of 2% of gross domestic product.
Ukraine has long been pleading for heavy battle tanks amid expectations that fighting will intensify after the winter. While Scholz’s government is one of the biggest providers of military and financial assistance to Kyiv, the German leader has been criticized for appearing to drag his feet over the decision to send the Leopards or allow allies to do so.
Wary of the potential to provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin, Scholz argued that any decision had to be coordinated among NATO allies and seemed to be waiting for a US commitment to send the Abrams.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that Ukraine’s allies were overestimating the potential of the battle tanks to influence the war, calling it a “deep delusion.”
Any Abrams and Leopard tanks supplied to Ukraine will “burn just like all the others,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call, the Tass news service reported.
Germany’s European allies own hundreds of Leopard 2s in different models. Poland on Tuesday formally requested German authorization to ship Ukraine 14 of its tanks.
Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto reiterated Wednesday that the Nordic country — which shares a border with Russia — is ready to take part in the shipment of Leopard tanks to Ukraine “in one or another way.”
Stopping short of offering its own tanks, of which Finland has about 200, Haavisto indicated it’s considering options, including providing training or spare parts.
The UK announced this month it would supply Ukraine with 14 of its Challenger 2s, the first time a Western country agreed to provide modern main battle tanks to fight Russian forces.
Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice chancellor and a member of the Greens party, said it was right that Scholz had carefully weighed his decision to send the Leopards to Ukraine.
“Ukraine’s right to self-defense applies, and we are supporting it with great force,” Habeck said in an emailed statement.
For the latest German government list of weapons and equipment it has supplied or pledged to Ukraine, click here.
--With assistance from Ott Ummelas, Aaron Eglitis, Kati Pohjanpalo and Kamil Kowalcze.
(Updates with defense minister comments in second paragraph)
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