By Santiago Vera García
After a private call between Biden, Macron, Scholz, Meloni, and Sunak, the shipment of 14 units from Germany and more from other countries of modern Leopard 2A6 tanks, plus 31 M1 Abrams heavy tanks, was approved.
Finally, after months of blocking the shipment of tanks, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz approved the load of the powerful Leopard tanks to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which had been asking for the donation of these tanks since the beginning of the war.
According to information from the German newspaper ‘Der Spiegel’, the German government will send a company of the “Leopard 2 A6” model to Ukraine, which was confirmed this Wednesday afternoon by the spokesman of the Executive, Steffen Hebestreit.
A “company” of these tanks is equivalent in most European armies to 14 units, so it can be expected that 14 tanks will be sent in the coming weeks.
The average cost of each unit is about €8.5 million, so Germany will spend almost €120 million on this unprecedented military aid.
In addition, and perhaps the essential part of the decision, the government of Olaf Scholz authorized other countries that own these tanks to send them to Ukraine, such as Poland, Finland, Greece, and Spain.
Germany’s decision, which comes almost 8 months after Ukraine officially requested the shipment of these tanks, comes after the Scholz government managed to replace Russian gas with fuel from Qatar and Iraq.
The German chancellor had said Monday that any decision regarding arms shipments should be taken “in close consensus with our allies,” Europe and the US.
Berlin’s change of heart represents a reversal of the cautious and reflective stance that Scholz had maintained until now, thus yielding to pressure from several of its allies.
Immediately, Joe Biden’s government in the United States welcomed Germany’s decision and took an unprecedented step in the history of Europe: it authorized the dispatch of 31 M1 Abrams tanks, the most powerful in the world, to Ukraine.
This is the first time the United States has sent these tanks to a non-NATO country.
These tanks are too large and heavy and are not ideal for the swampy and frozen terrain of southern Ukraine, as confirmed by Ukraine’s own General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, but “they will be used intelligently where they can,” assured a spokesman for the Zelenski government.
The total cost of a single Abrams tank may vary.
Still, it easily exceeds US$10 million per tank if the training and maintenance provided by General Dynamics specialists with the delivery of each unit are included.
The total cost of this shipment will exceed US$310 million, in addition to the billions of dollars that the United States has already sent it.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Oleksiy Makeiev, welcomed the formation of a “large coalition of battle tanks” ahead of delivering this type of weaponry to Kyiv.
“These tanks will help us to repel the Russian offensive and liberate our Russian-occupied territories and the population,” he said while visiting the German city of Hamburg.
In this regard, he stressed that the tanks would help “save lives.”
“We need everything, and we are grateful for all kinds of help,” Makeiev said, later assuring that the Ukrainian army and military “have shown that they can handle different equipment.”
The decision to send these tanks came after a call between U.S. President Joe Biden; German Chancellor Olaf Scholz; French President Emmanuel Macron; Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni; and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on assistance to Ukraine, the White House reported.
Biden thanked Germany for its decision to supply Ukraine with Leopard tanks. “Germany has stepped up,” Biden said.
“The expectation on the Russian side was that we were going to be divided,” Biden said, referring to the U.S. and European allies, “but we are fully, totally, and completely united.”
The Russian response was not long in coming. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any shipment of Abrams would be a waste of money, as they “burn” like the rest of the tanks.
“I am sure that many experts understand the absurdity of this idea. The plan is disastrous in terms of technology,” he said. “But, above all, it overestimates the potential it will add to the Ukrainian army. These tanks burn just like all the others,” Peskov stated.
The announcements by Washington and Berlin ended a significant dispute between the allies over how best to assist Ukraine, which was clamoring for the tanks to respond to the attack.
Russia appears to be preparing for the coming months and to retake at least part of the territories occupied by Moscow.
The Pentagon considered that sending Abrams was not the most practical solution. Although they are agile and rugged vehicles, they require special training.
They also consume enormous amounts of jet kerosene and require a vast support group to ensure their maintenance: their logistical chains would be more complicated to build.
In contrast, according to the Pentagon, the Leopard needs much less fuel and is more established among European armies, making tracing their logistics chains to Ukraine easier.
In addition, many countries neighboring or close to Ukraine have stocks of these tanks and can ship them faster and at a lower cost than the United States. All of this was ruled out in a politically motivated decision by Biden.
The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and his Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, have been under tremendous pressure from countries such as the United States, Poland, and the Baltic countries, due to their reluctance to decide on at least allowing other countries to re-export German-made tanks.
Scholz and Pistorius have repeated these days that they were waiting to form a coalition of all the allies and that Germany would never act alone.
The chancellor was worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin would find in the German tanks the excuse for an escalation in the conflict.
“We must prevent it from becoming a war between Russia and NATO,” he said last week at the economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.
This rhetoric seems to have changed. This Tuesday, German Foreign Minister, Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock, expounded in the Bundestag and bluntly said, “this war of ours against Russia.”
“The Leopard has been released!” celebrated the vice-president of the German parliament, Katrin Göring-Eckardt of The Greens, on her Twitter account.
“Now let’s hope it can quickly help Ukraine in its fight against the Russian attack and for the freedom of Ukraine and Europe.”
“Making the decision was difficult, but it was inevitable,” said the chairwoman of the Bundestag’s defense committee, the liberal Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, on her social networks.
Armies from 15 European countries have 2,405 units of the German Leopard 2 tank in their arsenals of various models and upgrades.
According to official figures, Germany has 521 Leopard 2, although not all A6 models will be sent to Ukraine.
Poland, which has been leading the group of countries pressing Germany hard to make the shipment, has submitted the formal request to the Scholz government this Tuesday to send several units of these tanks to Kyiv.
The Netherlands is also considering making 18 Leopard 2A6 battle tanks, which it owns as a lease, available to Ukraine.
“We lease them, which means we can buy them, which means we can donate them,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Tuesday in an interview with several international media in Brussels.
Spain has not yet revealed whether it will send such tanks, although it is an option it does not rule out.
In this regard, the Socialist Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares, said Tuesday, “Spain has never turned its back on Ukraine and will never turn its back” but did not want to specify what kind of military assistance it is willing to offer.
The Leopard 2 carries a crew of four soldiers and can shoot at targets up to 5,000 meters away, weighs about 60 tons, develop a speed close to 70 kilometers per hour, crosses flooded areas and rivers up to 4 meters deep, and has a periscope.
These are modern and agile armored vehicles that the Ukrainian Army has been demanding for months to defend itself from Russian aggression and to be able to recover ground conquered by the invading forces, as well as to face the new offensive, which, according to NATO, is being prepared by the Kremlin for this spring and in which Moscow could already actively use its aviation.
Although Ukraine is demanding the delivery of 300 of these tanks to make a significant difference on the ground against the Russians, the coalition of countries that decide to deliver some of their Leopards will try to add at least a hundred, a number that, according to analysts of the think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), is the minimum necessary to be able to make a difference on the battlefield.
The Leopard 2s, however, will not be a turning point if they are not accompanied by an accompanying technical structure: air support, infantry support, and integrated command.
In this respect, aircraft dispatch may be the next debate chapter among the allies. Moreover, the proper set-up and logistics for the Leopard 2s to be effective will not be quick either.
With information from Derecha Diario