Germany gives go-ahead for allies to teach Ukrainians to use Leopard tanks
Stars and Stripes January 24, 2023
Allies with German-made Leopard battle tanks are welcome to start training the Ukrainian military to use them, Germany’s top defense official said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Berlin is inching toward a decision on sending its own Leopards to Ukraine, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said.
His comments further eased concerns that Germany might block allies from sending their Leopard tanks to Ukraine. On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany would not stand in the way of other allies’ intentions to dispatch their Leopards to Ukraine.
Weapons contracts often contain language barring re-export without consent from the nation providing them.
Pistorius said NATO partner countries that have the German tanks can start training Ukrainian crews.
“We are encouraging our partners, if they want to and if they have the possibility, to start on these Leopards if they wish to do so,” Pistorius said. “We are not stopping anyone.”
Speaking at a news conference in Berlin alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, he sought to downplay the notion that Germany’s hesitation on sending its own Leopards to Ukraine had caused a rift within the alliance.
“We are not ununited,” Pistorius said, according to a live NATO English translation. He confirmed that no final decision has been made on the tank issue but added that it could be made soon.
Still, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has come under heavy criticism from some allies and in parts of his own government. They say he is moving too slowly on the issue.
Allies such as Poland have lashed out at Germany’s position and its initial opposition to other NATO members sending their own German-made tanks.
The Polish government indicated last week that it was prepared to flout any requirements for German approval to export Leopards for use in the Russia-Ukraine war.
The situation has resulted in a growing perception in parts of NATO that despite having sent a wide range of other weaponry to Ukraine, Germany is an unreliable supporter of Kyiv.
On Tuesday, when asked whether the negative perception is a result of Scholz’s failure to communicate Berlin’s position effectively, Pistorius demurred.
“It is not my place to criticize the chancellor’s choice of words or style of communication,” he said.
Meanwhile, Stoltenberg said he had discussed Leopard deliveries with Pistorius, and he talked up Germany’s contributions thus far.
“Germany is among the allies providing the most military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said, highlighting contributions such as the Gepard air defense system and a recent pledge to deliver advanced Patriot air defense systems and modern infantry fighting vehicles.
But Stoltenberg said more is still needed, even as the U.S. and other NATO members continue to send billions in military hardware 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.