Ukraine can possibly get their hands on some German Leopard 1 Main Battle Tanks as Rheinmetall’s chief executive Armin Papperger expressed that the company was ready to provide 50 Leopard 1 tanks to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. If approved by the German Government, it could take just 6 weeks before it would be delivered.

According to Papperger last Monday in an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt business newspaper, the 1st batch of the decommissioned tanks could be delivered in 6 weeks, with the rest of the tanks to follow in three months. The transfer would also involve the company’s subsidiary, Rheinmetall Italia.

These tanks were returned to Germany by countries that previously used the tanks and are not currently used by the German Armed Forces as the Bundeswehr uses the Leopard 2.

However, some German politicians have said that it would take too long for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to be trained to use Western munitions and argued that it was better to send equipment they could already operate. These politicians do have a point, as the Russian forces are already seen to be setting up their invasion in the eastern region of Donbas.

“You have to be trained a bit more intensively on the Leopard 1. But if the Ukrainians want the tank, a way should be found,” Defense policy spokesperson for the Free Democrats’ parliamentary group Marcus Faber said.

On the other hand, there are also German politicians who are quite open to the delivery of the Cold-war era Leopard tanks. This coalition includes their Social Democrats, the Greens, and Free Democrats.

The plan was also endorsed by senior members of the Green party, Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, which said that the deal could involve as many as 100 tanks.

U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and Italian Army, practice operating the MBT Leopard 1 by digging trenches at a dig site at CORMOR training area, Udine, Italy, Dec. 09, 2020. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projecting ready forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa or Central Commands' areas of responsibility. (DVIDS, U.S. Army Photos by Paolo Bovo). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6449401/engineer-digging-exercise
U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade, and Italian Army practice operating the MBT Leopard 1 by digging trenches at a dig site at CORMOR training area, Udine, Italy, Dec. 09, 2020. The 173rd Airborne Brigade is the U.S. Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, capable of projecting ready forces anywhere in the U.S. European, Africa, or Central Commands’ areas of responsibility. (DVIDS, U.S. Army Photos by Paolo Bovo).

In response to some of the skepticism on whether the Ukrainians could learn and use the German-made tanks, Papperger said that it was no problem and that Ukrainian soldiers who had prior experience could be trained in a matter of days.

There is one more barrier to the delivery, however. It was reported that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been delaying his final decision regarding sending the Ukrainians the Leopard 1 tanks despite growing support and pressure from other German officials and politicians.

The Social Democrat chancellor has stated that Germany should agree upon a “common position” with its allies before sending the equipment to Ukraine, according to an unnamed official that informed Politico.

“We’re setting in motion everything that’s right and sensible,” the chancellor said to the Bundestag, saying that it was vital to discuss and coordinate with the EU and NATO regarding the decision to send tanks. According to him, this was a way to make sure that “no one is rushing ahead.”

“I believe that this is precisely an issue where it would be a grave mistake for Germany to take a special role and a special path,” he added.

The German Chancellor received backlash from the Greens and the Free Democratic Party because of his statement and apparent hesitation. The Chair of the Bundestag’s European Affairs Committee, Anton Hofreiter, stated that Germany should show leadership in both the EU and NATO. He also added that he favored sending heavy weaponry to Ukraine and that the German cabinet should repeal its decision to not supply Ukraine with heavy weapons.

Germany is being accused of a certain duplicity in agreeing to send arms to Ukraine while also working to maintain good relations with Russia which has a stranglehold on Germany’s energy supplies in terms of gas, diesel, and natural gas. In the months and years preceding the latest invasion of Ukraine, Germany was the country most inclined to take Russia’s side in matters of dispute believing that Putin could be deterred with talks and treaties rather than arms and sanctions.  Echos of that posture remain in Germany still as it goes back and forth internally over how much support to give to Ukraine and salvage good relations with Russia. For a country with the size and influence it enjoys in the EU and NATO it can hamstring efforts by smaller nations to support Ukraine themselves.

Swedish Pbv-501 infantry fighting vehicle (Kjell Svensson, www.sphf.se). Source: https://www.sphf.se/svenskt-pansar/fordon/pansarbandvagn/pbv-501-fordonsfamilj/
Swedish Pbv-501 infantry fighting vehicle (Kjell Svensson, www.sphf.se)

While the German Chancellor’s carefulness may be prudent, it is important to note that Germany says it is not “rushing ahead,” as if multiple countries have already sent heavy weaponry to Ukraine. The largest contribution to Ukraine’s defense coming from the United States. This lopsided contribution may express the EU’s reluctance to support Ukraine more than anything else.  The countries of the EU combined have a larger population and economy than the US does alone.  These countries also have a sizeable armaments industry capable of making ships, tanks, planes, drones, missiles, and any other weapon of war one could need. Thus far, the contributions to the defense of Ukraine are a fraction of what the US has contributed and much of it is equipment the US has agreed to replace with new weapons. While individual countries in the EU may be limited in what they could send to Ukraine, collectively, the EU is an arsenal of arms manufacturing that could equip Ukraine unaided by the US if it had the political will to do so. In 2020, arms exports contracts held by EU counties amounted to 167 billion Euros. By comparison, the US sold $10.6 billion in arms in 2021.

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One of the most recent transfers also involved them as the Germans approved the transfer of some 56 Pbv-501 infantry fighting vehicles (originally BMP-1s) from the Czech Republic to Ukraine. These are reworked Russian armored fighting vehicles and are not state of the art by any means.

The United Kingdom has also been planning to send Ukraine some of its Mastiff armored vehicles. Australia is also set to donate some 20 Bushmasters to Kyiv as well. Talks of MiG-29 fighter jets being donated by Slovakia are also in the works after they had donated their S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine.

Last April 13th, President Biden had announced the approval of an $800 million military assistance package bound for Ukraine, which included not just 18 155mm Howitzers, Javelins, and Switchblade drones, but also 11 Mi-17 helicopters, 200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, and 100 Armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.

In February, the German government has also given some 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft defense systems to Ukraine. They have also authorized the Netherlands to send 400 rocket-propelled grenade launchers to Kyiv and spoke to Estonia to send Ukraine 9 howitzers.