Berlin will soon make a decision on whether to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, the German defense minister said on Tuesday, maintaining a position that has frustrated some NATO allies and the government in Kyiv, which says that it urgently needs the equipment to stave off a potential Russian offensive.
The German defense minister, Boris Pistorius, emphasized that Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government would not stop other nations from training Ukrainian forces on how to use the tank, which is stocked by many European countries. Germany has sought to assuage criticism that Berlin is dragging its feet on providing Ukraine with the tanks after NATO defense ministers failed to reach agreement on the issue last week.
On Tuesday, Poland’s defense minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, said that Warsaw had formally asked Germany for permission to transfer its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. German officials have indicated that they would not stand in the way of such requests, but it was not clear how soon Berlin would make a decision.
Kyiv has been pleading for months for hundreds of modern battle tanks made by European allies and the United States to reinforce its battered Soviet-era fleet. Some NATO countries, not least the Baltic States, have expressed increasing frustration with the time it has taken Berlin to consent to supply the Leopard 2 tanks, which are some of the most advanced in the world. Berlin, for its part, has argued that Washington should authorize the supply of its own Abrams tanks.
“We are preparing our decision, which will come very soon,” Mr. Pistorius said, speaking at a news conference with Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO. “We are looking into the matter, what the current status is regarding our Leopard tanks. It is not just a matter of counting our tanks, we know how many we have, it’s a lot more complicated than that.”
“It is often said that there is a lack of unity among the allies or that Germany is isolated, but that is not the case,” he added.
Britain has promised to supply 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks, but the Leopard 2 is a natural choice for Ukraine because hundreds are potentially available in Europe. Because more than a dozen countries use the Leopard 2, it would be easier to establish the supply chains, maintenance, training and logistics needed for effective deployment.
Russia’s invasion has galvanized NATO and given the European Union, which has imposed sanctions on Moscow, a renewed sense of purpose, but the disagreement over the tanks has exposed how support for Ukraine is still subject to political dynamics within individual countries.
Mr. Stoltenberg welcomed the discussion with Mr. Pistorius, but he urged countries to speed up delivery of arms to Ukraine.
“At this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster,” he said.