FILE PHOTO: A Leclerc XLR battle tank manufactured by Nexter is displayed at the Eurosatory international defense and security trade fair in Villepinte, near Paris, France June 13, 2022. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo
By Andreas Rinke and Leigh Thomas
PARIS (Reuters) -Germany’s foreign minister said on Sunday her government would not stand in the way if Poland wants to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, in a possible breakthrough for Kyiv which wants the tanks for its fight against Russia’s invasion.
Ukrainian officials have been calling on Western allies to supply them with the modern German-made tanks for months – but Berlin has so far held back from sending them, or allowing other NATO countries to do so.
Asked what would happen if Poland went ahead and sent its Leopard 2 tanks without German approval, Annalena Baerbock said on France’s LCI TV: “For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked we would not stand in the way.”
Her remarks appeared to go further than German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s comments at a summit in Paris earlier on Sunday that all decisions on weapons deliveries would be made in coordination with allies including the United States.
Germany has been under heavy pressure to let Leopards go to Ukraine. But Scholz’s Social Democrat party is traditionally sceptical of military involvements and wary of sudden moves that could cause Moscow to further escalate.
German defense minister Boris Pistorius said on Sunday that he expected a decision soon on the tanks, though he kept up a note of caution.
Pistorius told ARD TV that Germany would not make a hasty decision because the government had many factors to consider, including consequences at home for the security of the German population.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy repeated his long-standing plea for the tanks at his Sunday meeting with former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who was visiting Kyiv.
“We need more weapons: tanks, aircraft, long-range missiles,” Zelenskiy said, according to a statement on his website.
Ukraine says the heavily armoured Western battle tanks would give the Ukrainian ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive which Kyiv expects in the near future. It would also help Ukraine retake some of the territory that has fallen to Russia.
After the Paris summit, Scholz told a news conference that all weapons deliveries to Ukraine so far had taken place in close coordination with Western partners. “We will do that in the future,” he said.
Speaking at the same news conference, French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine.
Macron said that sending tanks must not escalate the situation, must take into account the time to train Ukrainians to be effective, and must not endanger France’s own security.
“Regarding the Leclercs, I asked the Army minister to work on it, but nothing has been ruled out,” Macron said, adding that the move would have to be coordinated with allies such as Germany in the coming days and weeks.
German sources have told Reuters they would allow German-made tanks to be sent to Ukraine to help its defence against Russia if the United States agrees to send its own tanks. But U.S. officials have said President Joe Biden’s administration is not poised to send its own tanks, including the M1 Abrams.
The Kremlin’s spokesman said on Friday that Western countries supplying additional tanks to Ukraine would not change the course of the conflict and that they would add to the problems of the Ukrainian people.