After US offer, Germany unleashes Leopard tanks for Ukraine
FILE - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stands with German army Bundeswehr soldiers at a "Leopard 2" main battle tank during a training and instruction exercise in in Ostenholz, Germany, Monday, October 17, 2022. Scholz is expected to announce Wednesday, January 25, 2023 that his government will approve supplying German-made battle tanks to Ukraine. (Moritz Frankenberg/dpa via AP, File)

BERLIN (AP) — After weeks of hesitation that saw growing impatience among Germany's allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Wednesday that his government would provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 battle tanks and approve requests by other countries to do the same.

In a statement, the German government said it would initially provide Ukraine with one company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks, which comprises 14 vehicles, from its own stocks. The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with a total of two battalions, or 88 tanks.

“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability," Scholz said after a Cabinet meeting in Berlin.

Germany was “acting in close coordination” with its international allies, he added.

The long-awaited decision came after US. officials said Tuesday that a preliminary agreement had been struck for the United States to send M1 Abrams tanks to help Ukraine's troops push back Russian forces that remain entrenched in the country's east almost a year after Russia invaded its neighbour.

Scholz had insisted that any decision to provide Ukraine with powerful Leopard 2 tanks would need to be taken in conjunction with Germany's allies, chiefly the United States. By getting Washington to commit some of its own tanks, Berlin hopes to share the risk of any backlash from Russia.

Ekkehard Brose, head of the German military’s Federal Academy for Security Policy, said tying the United States into the decision was crucial, to avoid Europe facing a nuclear-armed Russia alone.

But he also noted the deeper historic significance of the decision.

“German-made tanks will face off against Russian tanks in Ukraine once more,” he said, adding that this was “not an easy thought” for Germany, which takes its responsibility for the horrors of World War II seriously.

“And yet it is the right decision,” Brose said, arguing that it was up to Western democracies to help Ukraine stop Russia’s military campaign.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius cautioned that it would take about three months for the first tanks to be deployed in Ukraine. He described the Leopard 2 as “the best battle tank in the world.”

“This is an important game change, possibly also for this war, at least in the current phase,” he said.

The German government said it planned to swiftly begin training Ukrainian tank crews in Germany. The package being put together would also include logistics, ammunition and maintenance.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described German and US. intentions with the tanks as “a rather disastrous plan.”

“I am convinced that many specialists understand the absurdity of this idea,” Peskov told reporters Wednesday.

“Simply because of technological aspects, this is a rather disastrous plan. The main thing is, this is a completely obvious overestimation of the potential (the supply of tanks) would add to the armed forces of Ukraine. It is yet another fallacy, a rather profound one,” the Kremlin official said.

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