Suddenly the perceived tank laggard is positioning itself as the tank vanguard.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday called on his European partners to stop dragging their feet on providing heavy military aid to Ukraine – an admonition that comes after Berlin faced its own criticism for slow-moving a decision to deliver a tank.
Speaking at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, Scholz told reporters that Berlin had been “too quick” to supply Kiev with modern Leopard tanks – and now others needed to follow, especially those that once pressed Germany.
“Germany is making a very central contribution to ensure that we provide rapid aid, as we have done in the past,” Scholz said.
He added: “We are trying to ensure that many others who have come forward in the past now follow this finger pointing with practical steps.”
For weeks, Scholz faced intense criticism from the Allies for hesitating to deliver the tanks. The German chancellor finally relented after the US agreed to send its own advanced tanks. Scholz said Germany will deliver 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks as part of a larger alliance that aims to deliver 80 Leopard 2s.
Since then, however, some partners have been reluctant to contribute to the alliance, which now risks a risky effort to get enough tanks into Ukraine ahead of an expected Russian spring offensive.
The chancellor did not directly shame any country by name for it, but part of his frustration is likely directed at countries such as Finland, which indicated last month that it might send leopards if Germany did too but has yet to follow through.
“Finland has not yet indicated whether it will provide other types of support, such as tanks or maintenance,” a Finnish official told Politico.
Sweden, another partner that initially appeared open to sending leopards, has also not yet decided what to do. Spain says it is currently refurbishing older Leopard 2A4 tanks, but it is unclear when they will arrive in Ukraine and how many there will be. Meanwhile, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Wednesday that his country would deliver three Leopard 2 tanks – fewer than Berlin had hoped. Canada said it would send four leopards.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte had similarly previously raised the possibility that The Hague could buy some of the Leopard 2 tanks currently in use from Germany and ship them to Ukraine. But Root avoided the EU summit on Thursday, saying only, “It is something that we are [still] Discussing with our partners.”
Rutte also suggested that, instead of sending Leopard 2s to Ukraine, the Netherlands could send those tanks to Lithuania to bolster NATO’s eastern flank.
German officials have said that Defense Minister Boris Pistorius and even Scholz himself have been on the phone in recent days urging allies to take action, as Spiegel first reported. Failure to rally sufficient support could boomerang on Scholz, given his claims that he closely coordinated his tank decisions with the Allies.
Berlin is currently training Ukrainian troops on Leopard tanks and aims to ship the vehicles to Ukraine by the end of next month.
Poland, which had been Scholz’s most vocal critic in the past, Leopard agreed to send 2 tanks, albeit of older 2 A4 models.
Earlier this week, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany also announced that they would jointly send at least 100 units of the much older Leopard 1 A5 tanks to Kiev, which are not part of Scholes’ initially announced tank alliance.
Lili Baier and Wilhelmine von Prussia contributed to the report.