(Bloomberg) -- Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, said his government hasn’t made a decision yet on supplying its Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine but that it could move quickly if an agreement can be reached with NATO allies.
Speaking to reporters after talks at the US airbase in Ramstein, Germany, Friday, Pistorius said that defense ministers and military officials had not been able to agree “a unified position” on shipping the tanks, but insisted that the government in Berlin will make a decision as soon as possible.
“We have of course also talked about the possible delivery of Leopard tanks,” Pistorius said after the latest meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “I’m very sure there will be a decision in the short term, but I don’t know how the decision will look.”
Pressure is building on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to supply the heavy tanks to Ukraine in the event fighting intensifies in the spring.
Pistorius reiterated that sending the Leopards — or allowing allies to send the German-made tanks from their own stocks — isn’t contingent on the US sending its M1 Abrams.
He also pushed back against what he called the “false impression” that Germany is standing in the way of a “united coalition” of countries that are ready to send the tanks right away.
“There are many allies saying they agree with the position I elaborated here today: There are good reasons in favor and good reasons against,” Pistorius, who took office on Thursday, told reporters.
The Leopard 2 tanks in particular are in the spotlight due to their sheer quantity. European allies own hundreds of them in different varieties, which could spread the burden across a greater number of countries. Poland alone wants to send 14.
At the start of Friday’s Ramstein meeting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to allies to “write history” by giving the OK for battle tanks.
“Don’t bargain about the different numbers of tanks, but open a principle supply which will stop Russian evil,” he said in a video address.
“I’m truly grateful to all of you for the weapons you have provided,” he added. “Every unit helps to save our people from terror, but time remains a Russian weapon.”
Pistorius said he has asked his ministry to compile a report detailing Germany’s stocks of Leopard tanks held by both its own armed forces and manufacturers.
“This is simply preparation for a day that could come and then we would straight away be able to act and could deliver the support quickly if this decision by Germany and its NATO partners is made,” he said.
Earlier Friday, Scholz’s chief spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, reiterated that Germany has three main principles for backing Ukraine: To support the government in Kyiv as much as possible, to prevent NATO and Germany becoming directly involved in the conflict and to ensure decisions are closely coordinated with allies, above all the US.
“It’s important that we show a very united front and act together on all these issues, including the delivery of battle tanks to Ukraine,” Hebestreit said at the regular government news conference in Berlin.
--With assistance from Slav Okov and Ros Krasny.
(Updates with additional quotes starting in sixth paragraph)
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