Poland has reiterated that it is ready to send tanks to Ukraine without Germany’s consent, as pressure builds on Berlin to supply the heavy weapons that Kyiv has been calling for.
The Polish prime minister said his government would seek permission from Berlin to send its German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but described that consent as of “secondary importance”.
Mateusz Morawiecki said: “Even if we did not get this approval … we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine.” He added that “the condition for us at the moment is to build at least a small coalition of countries”.
Berlin is coming under heavy pressure to release the military hardware after failing to take a decision at a keenly anticipated international defense summit at the US military base of Ramstein in south-west Germany on Friday.
The German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock’s comment on Sunday that her country would not “stand in the way” of Poland sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine has caused some confusion in Berlin. For now, it remains unclear whether her remarks are indicative of a shift in the government’s position or merely a Green party attempt to correct the chancellor Olaf Scholz’s bungled communication strategy.
Baerbock did not repeat her comment when pressed on the matter on Monday morning. “It’s important that we as an international community do everything to defend Ukraine, so that Ukraine wins. Because if it loses, Ukraine will cease to exist,” she told the press at a meeting of the EU’s foreign affairs council in Brussels.
Baerbock’s party colleague Robert Habeck, the German minister for economic affairs, had already signaled 10 days ago that his ministry would not block the re-export of Leopard 2 tanks from other European countries to Ukraine. “There’s a difference between making a decision of your own accord and hindering the decision of others,” Habeck said at the time.
While the re-export of tanks manufactured in Germany has to be approved by the economic ministry, Habeck’s carte blanche for such decisions has in effect shifted the decision-making process to Scholz’s office.
That Scholz really would block Poland’s formal request to supply Kyiv with Leopard 2 tanks from its reserves, made explicit on Monday, is hard to imagine, not least because it would blow up the chancellor’s line that the allies’ position on such matters is more united than media reports have made it sound.
On Sunday evening, Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, rejected reports of an open disagreement between Washington and Berlin on the battle tank question. “Germany was not isolated,” Pistorius said of last Friday’s meeting at the Ramstein airbase.
Poland has said it is ready to send 14 Leopard tanks to Ukraine. In earlier comments, Morawiecki described Germany’s attitude as unacceptable. “I try to weigh my words but I’ll say it bluntly: Ukraine and Europe will win this war – with or without Germany,” he said.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels will discuss the question on Monday, but no immediate breakthrough is expected.
Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, said his country could supply Ukraine with a couple of Leopard tanks and spare parts, and/or train soldiers in driving and servicing the tanks, but suggested that decision rested on Germany. “We are still in the process of what kind of package will be formed. We hope it’s a position where countries like Germany could participate,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s staunchest allies in the Baltic states made clear they wanted Germany to act quickly. “Let me be clear that Germany is an engine of Europe and it also creates a particular responsibility,” said Estonia’s foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu. He said Estonia was spending 1% of national income on military aid for Ukraine and urged others to do the same. “We need to give the Ukrainian people a shield but also a sword to liberate the territory.”
His Lithuanian counterpart, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said a “very vibrant debate” was under way in Germany. “I hope that it will be fruitful as it has been in the past, that Germany will send the tanks. Unfortunately, we as the ones who are waiting for them to be sent have to wait one more day.”
Recalling Lithuania’s oppression under the Soviet Union, Landsbergis said “we have to defeat fear of defeating Russia”, without naming specific countries. “If we don’t prepare for Russia losing the war then we are not serious about helping Ukraine win,” he said.
The EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, said he thought such arms should be provided to the Ukrainian army, but described it as a decision for EU member states.
The EU is expected to sign off on a further €500m (£440m) in arms funding for Ukraine through its European peace facility, pending legal formalities at a later date. France’s foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, said she had “no doubt that this is a decision we will take today”.