(Bloomberg) -- Poland formally asked for Germany’s permission to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, adding pressure on Chancellor Olaf Scholz to grant allies approval to re-export the German-made military vehicle.
The government in Warsaw expects a “prompt” approval from Berlin, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday. His administration has for weeks joined calls on Scholz to drop his cautious approach to delivering the tanks. Poland has said it’s working on assembling a coalition of nations with Leopard stocks to send them to Ukraine.
German law requires approval for the re-export of its military equipment, meaning the hundreds of Leopard tanks in Europe can only be sent to Ukraine with Berlin’s consent. The new defense minister in Berlin, Boris Pistorius, said a decision on supplying Leopards and allowing for their re-export could be made in the coming days.
“The Germans have already received our request for consent to the transfer of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine,” Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Twitter. “I also appeal to the German side to join the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks.”
As Ukraine and its allies prepare for a fresh Russian offensive in the spring, the debate over sending battle tanks to back Kyiv’s military and potentially retake territory has become a flashpoint among NATO allies. US and European officials have bridled at Scholz’s slow decision-making, saying the German leader should be more assertive, following through his promised “Zeitenwende,” or historic turning point on security.
Scholz has insisted that Germany not act alone in sending new categories of heavy weapons that could provoke an escalation with Moscow. He’s placed a premium on moving in lockstep with the US and NATO.
“We never go alone,” Scholz said in an interview last week with Bloomberg.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, on a visit to Berlin, said he’s confident that a decision on tank deliveries to help Kyiv boost its firepower will come soon.
“Russia is preparing for new offensives and we need to enable the Ukrainians fast,” he said alongside Pistorius.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the indecision “is killing more of our people.”
Germany will begin taking inventory of how many Leopards are available so Berlin can move swiftly if it decides to ship them, Pistorius said in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday.
Morawiecki has warned previously that his country may deliver the tanks irrespective of Berlin’s sign-off and was talking to other allies to join in.
“This coalition of countries that want to help Ukraine resist barbaric Russian aggression must grow,” he told reporters in Warsaw on Tuesday. “Germany is the biggest country and should contribute in a more meaningful way.”
Until recently, German officials always made clear in private conversations that they would only send or allow others to deliver Leopards to Ukraine if the US provides its M1 Abrams main battle tank. But Berlin has since changed course and now says there is no link between sending Leopards with the US equivalent.
--With assistance from Michael Nienaber and Arne Delfs.
(Adds Polish prime minister comments in 2nd, 14th paragraphs.)
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