The Western alliance’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine received a boost this week, with several European countries responding to a call to supply Kiev with modern main battle tanks for the first time.
France, Poland and the UK have pledged to send tanks to the Ukrainian army. Finland is considering doing the same.
Britain plans to send a dozen Challenger 2 tanks and additional artillery systems as part of efforts to “step up” support for Ukraine, Downing Street said. After the two leaders spoke by phone on Saturday, Zelensky thanked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for “decisions that not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.”
Speaking with Zelensky in the Ukrainian city of Lviv on Wednesday, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said he hoped that tanks from various Western allies “could soon travel to Ukraine by various routes and strengthen Ukraine’s security”.
The moves have increased pressure on Germany, which last week said it would move infantry fighting vehicles to Kiev but has yet to commit to sending tanks. Foreign Minister Olaf Scholz has insisted that any such plan must be fully coordinated with the entire Western alliance, including the United States.
Western officials told CNN the decision by some countries, but not others, to send more tanks is part of a broader assessment of what’s happening in Ukraine. NATO allies have been debating for the past few weeks about which countries would be best served with certain types of aid, whether it be military equipment or money.
A senior Western diplomat has suggested that more countries may increase the level of their military support in the coming weeks as the war enters a new phase, and that a new Russian offensive could be just around the corner as the anniversary of the invasion approaches.
But Germany’s support is thought to be crucial. Thirteen European countries, including Poland and Finland, have modern German Panther 2 tanks, which were introduced in 1979 and have been upgraded several times, according to the European Foreign Relations Think Tank.
While re-exports of the tank by these countries would normally require approval from the German government, Berlin has suggested it will not prevent its transfer to Kiev.
Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said Thursday that Berlin would not prevent other countries from re-exporting the Leopard tanks.
“Whatever decisions Germany makes, Germany must not stand in the way of other countries making decisions in favor of Ukraine,” Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said at a Green Party meeting in Berlin on Thursday.
German deputy government spokesman Christian Hoffmann said on Friday that he had not received an official request from Poland or Finland.
“There’s no question we have to say no. But we’re saying now that we’re in constant exchange about what’s the right thing to do and how best to support Ukraine,” Hoffman told reporters.