Ukraine’s major advances against Russian invaders in recent days have increased pressure on the German government to send the Ukrainian military state-of-the-art Panther 2 tanks. The equipment, built by Munich-based arms firm Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, will be vital in supporting troops liberating Ukraine’s eastern regions, says Raphael Loss, a defense expert at the Council of European Foreign Affairs.
“Commands manning Ukrainian tanks have shown that they are capable of conducting maneuver warfare and combined operations very effectively,” Los told DW. According to the expert, Ukraine’s advances on the battlefield were “achieved by integrating tanks with artillery-supported armored vehicles to penetrate Russian defenses, identify weaknesses and exploit them, and rapidly move forces.”
“This is what Ukraine needs to do in the coming months and next year to liberate the occupied parts of its territory.” For him, artillery is only one piece of the puzzle.
Politicians ask for tanks
Members of parties in Germany’s ruling coalition joined the chorus of opposition demands addressed to Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht. “I want the chancellor to change course,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), head of the Bundestag’s (German parliament) defense committee. The ruling coalition.
The delivery of Leopard tanks and several mortar infantry fighting vehicles is “incredibly important and must happen immediately,” he said in an interview with public broadcaster ARD on Monday morning. According to Strack-Zimmermann, in such a war situation “Ukraine’s victories will only last if they have the weapons they need”.
Even members of the ruling coalition’s second-largest bloc, the Greens, have called for more military aid to Ukraine until 2021, countering an increase in German arms exports abroad. “Everyone in the government knows that there is more potential,” Green co-leader Omit Nuripour told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
However, the German government remains adamant. At an event organized by the German Council on Foreign Relations on Monday morning, Lambrecht said that Germany naturally has a leading role in Europe.
However, he also recalled that his first duty as defense minister was to ensure that the Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) was adequate to defend the country.
“It’s not so easy to say: I risk not being able to protect ourselves by providing everything. No, I’m not going to do that. But from the industry, we have other opportunities with our partners.”
Lambrecht acknowledged that it would take weeks to train Ukrainian soldiers to fight Leopard 2 tanks, while deliveries of Soviet tanks like those used in other Eastern European countries could be made immediately.
He also said that all decisions regarding arms exports will be taken in coordination with NATO allies, particularly the US and the UK.
“It’s a process,” Lambrecht said. “It’s not a smart idea to keep talking about what’s being offered and letting Putin know what’s coming.”
Ensuring the survival of Ukraine
But there are counter-arguments to all of Lambrecht’s views, says conservation expert Rafael Los. “It’s more a matter of will than formal or informal restrictions on the German government by allies or the situation in Ukraine. My view is that Christine Lambrecht and Olaf Scholes are looking for new reasons not to do something.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated over the weekend that Ukraine’s survival is now more important than ensuring the alliance’s military reserves are full.
“Of course, this will undermine the Bundeswehr’s own capabilities and disrupt training programs for new tank crews, but this is a political decision,” says Laus.
Tanks in stock
Also, Germany is in an exceptionally important position to supply tanks to Ukraine, as both the Bundeswehr and German industry have some in stock.
Apart from this, there are currently around 2,000 tanks – of various configurations and in readiness – in use by 12 other European armies, meaning that the load can be shared between these countries.
If the Leopard 2 tanks are available now, it will take at least two months to prepare them for battle and be on the front line in eastern Ukraine. But using tanks will be critical in the coming winter months, Laws explained.
“I agree that there are legitimate concerns about high-end military equipment like the Panther 2 falling into Russian hands, older versions of the tanks that are readily available anyway,” recalls Los.
Although some in power have openly stated this, to many critics, the German government’s reluctance to deploy the Panther 2 was largely to avoid the unpleasant optics of Russian tanks directly facing German tanks.
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