Tanks to Ukraine: is Germany sending Leopard 2s to fight Russia invasion? What Chancellor Olaf Scholz said

Berlin has confirmed it will send German Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. 

Germany has today (25 January) unveiled plans to send tanks to Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced during a Cabinet meeting that 14 Leopard 2 tanks will be sent to the frontline, just hours after reports of the decision were initially reported in Politico. Berlin has also given permission for other countries to export Leopard 2s, in a move Ukraine is hoping will be a game-changer on the battlefield.

Until this point, Berlin has been hesitant to send Leopard 2s, apparently wanting Washington to act first in terms of military supplies. But after months of political debate, it has decided to go ahead with the move - and it looks like the United States may be following suit, with officials suggesting President Joe Biden was leaning towards sending “a significant number” of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

Even before an official announcement was made by Chancellor Scholz, officials in Ukraine were celebrating. Andriy Yermak, the head of Volodymyr Zelensky’s presidential administration, wrote on Telegram: “A few hundred tanks for our tank crews - the best tank crews in the world. This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy against the autocracy from the bog.”

Zelensky himself was more cautious however, remarking in his evening address on Tuesday (24 January): “There is a lot of talk about tanks now - about the modern tanks we need and about how this deficit can be filled. Many efforts, words, promises. But it is important to see reality: it is not five, or 10, or 15 tanks. The need is greater.”

So, what does it all mean? Here’s how the tanks would help Ukraine, what Russia has said in response, why Germany was hesitant to send them in the first place, and more.

Two Leopard 2 tanks pictured in Germany on 7 February, 2022. It comes as reports suggest Germany will send tanks to help the war effort in Ukraine. Credit: Getty Images

When was the announcement made?

Chancellor Scholz made the announcement today (25 January), during a Cabinet meeting. He confirmed that Germany will send 14 Leopard 2s - which equates to one company of tanks.

Berlin also give permission for export licences for countries who have bought the tanks, such as Poland, Finland and Sweden, allowing them to be sent to Ukraine. Poland has been pushing to send vehicles to Ukraine for a while.

It’s less clear when the US will send tanks, although some reports suggest the announcement could come as early as today too (25 January). However, it would likely take many months for the tanks to reach the battlefield in Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech on 22 January, 2023. Credit: Getty Images

Has Vladimir Putin reacted?

Vladimir Putin has not personally responded to the news yet, but a spokesperson for the Kremlin said the decision would “bring nothing good” and leave “a lasting mark” on Germany’s relationship with Russia. Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to the US said the news was “another blatant provocation”.

When Britain previously agreed to dispatch Challenger 2s, Russia reacted with fury - with spokesperson Dmitry Peskov threatening to burn them: “They are using this country as a tool to achieve their anti-Russian goals. These tanks are burning and will burn just like the rest.”

Will the tanks help Ukraine?

Ukraine has been urging allies to send more military aid for a while, saying they are urgently in need of heavier weapons. Officials have suggested that sufficient battle tanks could help forces in Kyiv seize back territory from the Russians.

It’s unclear how much of this would come to fruition, but it’s worth noting that tanks from the West - such as Germany’s Leopard 2, the UK’s Challenger 2, and the US’ Abrams - are all seen as superior to some of Russia’s equivalents, such as the T-72.

(Credit: Mark Hall/NationalWorld)

Why was Germany initially hesitant to send tanks?

Germans have endured months of political debate over whether or not to send tanks to Ukraine. Concerns have been raised that sending tanks would escalate the conflict - both involving Nato in the war with Russia and potentially allowing Germany to be labelled as an aggressor.

But Strack-Zimmermann, who chairs Germany’s parliamentary defence committee, has said that the decision “signifies an important step in pushing back Russia’s brutal assault on innocent people.”