Senators urge U.S., Germany to send tanks after meeting with Zelensky in Ukraine

A Polish Leopard 2 tank seen during German military exercises 2022.
A Polish Leopard 2 tank seen during German military exercises 2022. (Armin Weigel/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Germany failed to reach a deal with its main Western ally to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, despite growing pressure from NATO and Kyiv to step up military aid ahead of a possible Russian spring offensive.

The Leopard 2 tank is seen as an important modern military vehicle that will bolster forces in Kyiv as the war with Russia approaches the one-year mark.

But Germany has pushed back on claims it has stalled in providing military support to Ukraine and has called on the United States to send its own tanks across the Atlantic into Ukraine.

Why the Leopard 2 tank is so important: Thirteen European countries, including Poland and Finland, already have modernized German Leopard 2 tanks, which were introduced in 1979 and have been upgraded several times since then, according to the European Foreign Relations think tank.

Many of them agreed to re-export some tanks to Kyiv, but German permission was required. Representatives of those countries that own the Leopard tanks met on the sidelines of a meeting at the Ramstein air base in Germany, according to the Portuguese Ministry of Defense.

In total, there are around 2,000 Leopard 2 vehicles in various states of readiness scattered across Europe.

Each tank contained a 120mm smoothbore gun and a 7.62mm machine gun. It can reach speeds of 70 kilometers per hour, or 50 kilometers per hour off-road, making mobility one of its main characteristics. According to its German manufacturer, KraussMaffei Wegmann, there is also full protection against threats, including improvised explosive devices, mines or anti-tank fire.

A fixed number of units are already stationed around Ukraine, and the relatively low maintenance requirements of the Leopard compared to other models lead experts to believe that the tanks could quickly help Ukraine.

Why is Germany delaying aid to Ukraine? Frustration with Germany among some NATO members has in some ways supported the narrative that Berlin has been slower than the West in extending support to Ukraine.

Germany was expected to announce its decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine on Friday, but said it needed more time.

Also, the appointment this week of Boris Pistorius as Germany’s new defense minister has raised questions given his previous stance on Russia.

Polish leader Mateusz Morawiecki cited Pistorius’ previous support for easing sanctions on Russia and his “close partner” Gerhard Schröder Relationship. The former German chancellor was forced to give up his post in the German parliament (Bundestag) after failing to sever commercial ties with Russia following Moscow’s invasion.

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