By Sabine Siebold and Alan Charlish
BERLIN/WARSAW -Poland on Tuesday said it had submitted a formal request asking Germany to allow the re-export of its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, cranking up pressure on Berlin on heavy weapons that Kyiv sees as crucial to repel the Russian invasion.
Pressure has been building on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government to send its Leopard tanks to Ukraine and let other countries send the ones they own. Under military procurement rules, Germany must authorise any re-exports.
Ukraine says heavily armoured Western battle tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive that Kyiv expects in the near future. It would also help Ukraine retake some of the territory that has fallen to Russia.
But Scholz’s Social Democrat party has been holding back, wary of moves that could cause Moscow to escalate further.
It has also bristled at suggestions that Germany is unilaterally blocking the supply of German-built Leopard tanks to Ukraine, saying that other countries also had misgivings and that a consensus must be reached.
Germany has previously said that no country had formally asked for permission to send their Leopard tanks.
Poland, which has criticised Berlin for foot-dragging, said it expected a fast response now that it had made such a formal request.
“I hope that this answer from Germany will come quickly, because the Germans are delaying, dodging, acting in a way that is difficult to understand,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference. “We can see that they do not want to help Ukraine defend itself in a wider way.”
Poland also expected the European Union to foot the bill for the tanks, saying it would be a test of goodwill from Brussels, he said.
A German defence source told Reuters that Poland had submitted a request to let it supply up to 14 Leopard 2 A4 tanks to Ukraine.
A spokesperson for the German government said it would handle proceedings with “the urgency they deserve”.
On a visit to Berlin, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg praised Germany’s contribution in supporting Ukraine but urged allies to speed up deliveries of heavy and more advanced weapons. He expressed confidence that a decision on sending battle tanks would come soon.
Stoltenberg was speaking in Berlin alongside Germany’s new defence minister, Boris Pistorius, who said his government would act quickly on the tanks if a consensus was found.
“At this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster,” NATO‘s Stoltenberg told reporters.
“I therefore welcome our discussion today. We discussed the issue of battle tanks. Consultations among allies will continue and I’m confident we will have a solution soon.”
Pistorius said Germany was not standing in the way of other countries training Ukrainian troops to use the Leopard tanks while talks continued. Without mentioning Poland, he criticised certain stakeholders for allowing the impression to fester that “there’s disunity or that Germany is isolated”.
Scholz was trying to forge consensus on the tanks issue, he said, adding that NATO must not become party to the war in Ukraine.
The decision about the delivery of the tanks would be taken solely at the political level, German defence chief Eberhard Zorn said at a conference in Berlin organised by Handelsblatt.
“The coalition of states that want to help Ukraine must expand. Germany is the largest country and should join this community,” Morawiecki said. “We await your prompt reply. We are already training Ukrainian soldiers in Poland. Other countries are doing it too, and we will continue to do so.”