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1st Feb 2023

Germany 'shocks' allies by withholding Ukraine tanks

  • Ukraine war to reach 1st anniversary next month (Photo: Serhii Myhalchuk)
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Accusations of Russia appeasement have redoubled following Germany's decision to continue withholding tanks from Ukraine.

German defence minister Boris Pistorius defended Berlin's decision following a Western arms-pledging meeting by 54 countries at the Rammstein military base in Germany on Friday (20 January).

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"There was no unified opinion on this," he told press, referring to Kyiv's call for Germany to deliver Leopard 2-class tanks to the battlefields of Ukraine.

"The impression that sometimes arises that there is a united coalition and Germany is standing in the way is wrong," he added.

"There are many allies who say: 'We share the view you've set out here. There are good reasons for delivering [the Leopards] and good reasons against it'," Pistorius said.

EU countries have hundreds of spare Leopard 2 tanks and stockpiles of parts to keep them going in terms of logistics and maintenance, amid fear of a looming new Russian offensive.

But Germany, which made them, has to give permission for re-export.

Russia's lethal bombing of an apartment block in Dnipro, Ukraine, on the eve of the Rammstein talks had added to pressure for Berlin to budge, despite Russia's dire threats against what it calls Western "escalation".

Germany would be ready to deliver the Leopard 2s at short notice if it changed its mind in future, Pistorius noted on Friday.

But for the time-being, Ukraine should get more Western air-defences instead, he said.

The German position went against the grain of Friday's talks.

Nine countries — Estonia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and the UK — pledged an "unprecedented set of donations, including main battle tanks, heavy artillery, air defence, ammunition and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine's defence".

This included 14 high-end British tanks and an assortment of howitzers and anti-aircraft cannon.

The US and Finland also unveiled new Ukraine arms funding worth over €2bn going into Friday.

"Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip. This is not a moment to slow down. It's a time to dig deeper," US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said.

The Polish foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, said he was "shocked" by Pistorius' decision, amid growing mistrust between Warsaw and Berlin over the war.

"Ukrainian blood is shed for real. This is the price of hesitation over Leopard deliveries. We need action, now," he said.

Polish defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak said he was "convinced" allies would send the tanks in a coalition of the willing sooner or later, even without German permits.

Commenting on the situation, Tobias Ellwood, a British MP on the parliament's defence committee, said: "I actually find it baffling myself in this day and age that we can watch an entire country, a European democracy, be attacked day in and day out. Yet with the immense superior firepower at our disposal, we're still not willing to give Ukraine the kit, the hardware that it needs."

Special relationship

But Norbert Röttgen, a German conservative MP, offered one explanation.

"I think there's a reason for this beyond all the reasons they've given," Röttgen said of the German socialist-led government.

"It's the continuation of the old Russia policy ... to pursue an approach to Russia even in wartime that ensures the core of the special German-Russian relationship will be preserved," he added, according to The Times of London.

"[German chancellor Olaf] Scholz believes that by denying Ukraine these particularly effective weapons [Leopard 2s] he can preserve this relationship with Russia in the future," Röttgen said.

And according to research compiled by Swiss-based academics Simon Evenett and Niccolò Pisani in a new study, German industry appears to be taking a similar approach.

The EU is currently preparing its 10th round of sanctions on Russia.

But German firms form the majority of those Western companies who never divested their Russia business holdings since the war began one year ago, the researchers calculated.

"Of those EU and G7 firms remaining in Russia, 19.5 percent are German, 12.4 percent are American owned, and 7 percent are Japanese multinational firms," Evenett and Pisani said.

"These findings call into question the willingness of Western firms to decouple from economies their governments now deem to be geopolitical rivals," they said.

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