Send tanks to Ukraine now!
Germany’s decision to block the large-scale transfer of Western-built main battle tanks to Ukraine will, like all its previous hesitations, eventually be eroded. But it’s a blow — not just to Ukraine, but to NATO and the collective Western response to Russian aggression.
[UPDATE 23.01.23: Annalena Baerbock has given Poland permission to send its Leopards. Meanwhile John Lough of Chatham House has a comprehensive rundown of why Scholz has to cave in, with recent polling info and reactions from FDP/Greens.]
The German government refused commit to donating Leopard 2 tanks direct to Ukraine at Friday’s Ramstein Group meeting, and has refused to allow Spain and Poland — both of whom field German-built Leopards — to re-export the tanks themselves.
The veto is significant because, with German industry acting as Europe’s tank maker of choice during the post Cold War era, when it seemed none of the kit would ever be used, the Leopard 2 is the most prevalent tank in European stockpiles, with ample supplies of spare parts and maintenance know-how across the continent.
But it’s even more significant when you consider the geopolitics.
What we’re seeing, in the perpetual hesitancy of the Scholz-Baerbock government over support for Ukraine, is what an existential split in NATO would like.
Scholz’ rationale for refusing to send tanks has been, frankly, evasive: at a Berlin forum in October I saw Wolfgang Schmidt, his chief of staff, claim that Leopard 2s could not be sent (a) because they could not be maintained; (b) because they contain technology that could fall into Russian hands; © that if captured while bearing an Iron Cross on the side, this would hand Russia a propaganda opportunity and; (d) nobody else was sending them.
Behind these evasions, as the Finnish security analyst Minna Ålander points out, lies a strategic difference of opinion.
Scholz does not want Ukraine to defeat Russia. He does not want Russia to win either. He wants Ukraine to contain Russian aggression to the point where negotiations begin and European geopolitics get back to normal.