- Poland says plans to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine
- Germany hints at ratification as allies mount pressure
- President Zelensky tackles corruption scandal
- Russia says tank debate shows NATO split
WARSAW/Kyiv (Reuters) – Poland’s prime minister said on Monday his government would ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine – and planned to send them with or without Berlin’s consent.
The Kyiv government hopes that German-made Leopard 2 tanks will be able to break through Russia’s defenses and retake territory this year.
Pressure on Berlin – which must approve the re-export of the Leopard – also came from a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. Latvia’s foreign minister said there was “no good reason” why main battle tanks could not be provided.
The issue has dominated recent discussions among Western allies over how much and what kind of material aid they should provide Ukraine as the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion looms.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, which neighbors Ukraine, said on Monday that Warsaw would ask Germany to allow further tank exports to Ukraine.
But he added: “Even if we didn’t get the approval…we would still transfer our tanks to Ukraine along with other tanks. Our current condition is to create at least a small coalition of countries.”
On Sunday, Germany’s foreign minister appeared to leave the door open to approving such shipments, saying Berlin would not stand in the way if Poland wanted to send them.
Both Ukraine and Russia are believed to be planning a spring offensive to break what has become a deadlock in eastern and southern Ukraine that has become a war of attrition. The current fighting is centered on the eastern town of Bakhmut, where Russian Wagnerian mercenaries and Ukrainian troops are already at war.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is grappling with a corruption scandal that could dampen Western enthusiasm for his government.
A newspaper report said the Ukrainian military was suspected of overpaying for food and a deputy minister resigned following an investigation into allegations he took bribes.
Leopards on the move?
For months, Ukrainian officials have been begging Western allies to supply them with Leopard tanks. Germany has so far refrained from sending them and says other NATO countries have not formally requested their re-export.
After Ukraine made progress in the second half of 2022, the frontline has been largely at a standstill for two months, despite heavy losses on both sides. Ukraine said Western tanks would provide mobility, protection and firepower for its ground forces to break through Russia’s lines and push on.
“We need tanks — not 10 or 20, but hundreds,” Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, wrote on Telegram on Monday. “Our goal is to (restore) the 1991 borders and punish the enemy, who will pay for their crimes.”
Western allies last week pledged billions of dollars in weapons to Ukraine but failed to persuade Germany to commit to allowing the use of the Leopard.
On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a marked shift in Germany’s position that her government would not stop Poland if it tried to send Leopard missiles. Arriving in Brussels on Monday, Bell Bock declined to elaborate on the comments or say whether she was speaking for the entire government. The important thing, she said, was to “do everything we can to defend Ukraine”.
Chancellor Olaf Schulz’s Social Democratic Party believes that the West should avoid sudden actions that could escalate the war. But some allies have rejected that stance, saying Russia has gone all out on Ukraine.
“At this point there is no good reason why main battle tanks cannot be provided,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Linkevices. “The escalation argument does not work because Russia continues to escalate.”
Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said tanks should not be left on hold for another day, while Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said Russia could be forced to do so if the Europeans “don’t help Ukraine with what they need now”. win this war.
“A Terrible War”
U.S. lawmakers on Sunday urged their government to export M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine, saying even a token figure would help push European allies to do the same.
Britain said it would supply Ukraine with 14 Challenger 2 tanks. French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine.
Leopards are considered the best option for Ukraine as they are more widely used than British and French tanks and use less fuel than turbine powered American Abrams.
The Kremlin said on Monday that Europe was divided over whether to supply Kyiv with tanks, a sign of growing “tensions” within the NATO military alliance.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “Of course, all countries that are directly or indirectly involved in sending arms to Ukraine and improving its technology are responsible” for the continuation of the conflict.
A meeting of EU foreign ministers will also discuss more military aid to Ukraine. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he hoped they would approve another 500 million euros ($545 million) in support.
Since the February 24, 2022 invasion, which Russia describes as defense against an aggressive West, it has taken control of parts of Ukraine it says it will never return. Ukraine has said the restoration of its territorial integrity is off limits to negotiations.
Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz, Anna Wlodarczak, Tom Sims and Lidia Kelly, Writing by Angus MacSwan, Editing by Clarence Fernandez
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