The German government continues its hesitancy to allow buyers of its Leopard 2 battle tank to pass their stock on to Ukraine. While it is usual that producers of defense goods keep the final say in resales, the Germans’ stance has been met with puzzlement given the interest of major buyer Poland as well as Denmark and Finland to supply the tanks.
New German defense minister Boris Pistorius has merely ordered a tally of available stock of the Leopard 2. The country also said earlier that refurbished Leopard 2 tanks could only be supplied from Germany itself by 2024. Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, much has been written about Germany’s reluctance to appear too involved in the military side of the conflict, but an even more sinister reason could be at play in the country’s latest snub. The resupply of tanks to European countries who passed their Leopards on could be snapped up by U.S. companies, German-language newspapers have been theorizing, as Germany’s own defense industry would not be up to the task of a quick restocking.
The U.S. meanwhile said it didn’t plan to supply a comparable tank, the M1 Abrams, since its engine that runs on jet fuel instead of diesel would not fit well into existing Ukrainian resupply operations. If the U.S. would supply tanks as well, this would reportedly set German officials more at ease, but as things are, a meeting at U.S. airbase Ramstein in Germany ended without a resolution on the deliveries Friday.
Leopard 2 tanks would be the first Western-made tanks supplied to Ukraine, potentially together with the British Challenger II. Downing Street said on January 14 that it would send the weapons but didn’t provide a timeline. So far, European countries have merely passed on their older stock of Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine.
Poland has suggested it might break its agreement with Germany and supply the tanks nevertheless. German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock to more puzzlement from observers said she would let the move slide.
According to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, around 1,900 Leopard 2s have been exported from Germany since 1992, including refurbished ones. Germany sold a particularly large number of tanks in the 2000s, but recently only a few Leopards were exported abroad as its production has wound down and concentrated on countries outside of Europe. The largest buyer over the past 20 years have been Turkey, Poland, Chile, Greece and Singapore. Despite Turkey’s and Greece’s membership in NATO, exports to Ukraine are less likely from these countries as they are in an (inactive) conflict with one another.