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1st Feb 2023

Germany 'wouldn't veto' Polish tanks for Ukraine

  • Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau (r) (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)
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Poland is urging other EU states with Leopard-class tanks to send them to Ukraine after Germany softened its position on re-export.

"Yes. Certainly we're going to send these tanks," Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau told press in Brussels on Monday (23 January) after meeting his EU peers.

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"We will do it," he said, when asked if it had already applied for Germany's permission to do so.

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said little on the subject to press.

But she reiterated inside Monday's meeting that Berlin wouldn't veto the transfers of its Leopard tanks to Ukraine, EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said.

"Germany is not going to ban exporting of these weapons by other member states who have them and want to send them," Borrell said.

Baerbock was "still waiting" for Germany's decision whether to transfer its own stocks of Leopards also, she told the room, according to Rau.

Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Turkey have over 2,000 of the tanks between them, which Kyiv first requested in March 2022.

The EU ministers met following an arms donors' conference in Rammstein, Germany, last week in which Berlin had continued to hold up transfers, prompting accusations of Russia appeasement.

Poland was ready to send 14 or so Leopards, but Ukraine needed "a number of tanks that's significant on the battlefield, which a whole company (14) isn't", Rau also said on Monday.

The number of countries in the Leopard-sending coalition "remains to be determined", he added.

But Finland was willing to help, its foreign minister Pekka Haavisto indicated. "It can be training [of Ukrainian soldiers]. It can be spare parts. It can be a couple of tanks," he said.

"Ukraine has to win militarily in the field" before Russia enters meaningful peace talks, Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billström said.

The Baltic countries and Luxembourg also spoke out in favour of the move.

Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó hit his usual Russia-friendly note.

"All decisions that could prolong the war or lead to a potential escalation are against our interests," he said at Monday's meeting.

Nonetheless, EU ministers pledged €500m more in other arms for Ukraine and discussed the 10th round of Russia sanctions, which are to enter into force by 24 February — the first anniversary of Russia's massive invasion.

Ideas included a ban on Russian diamonds, transfers of cash US dollars to Russia, and a ban on servicing Russian-flagged vessels in European ports, Rau added.

An existing EU price-cap on Russian oil was already biting, Borrell told media, producing a graph of oil price movements.

"Russian oil is being sold at a discount of 50 percent and being bought mainly by India and China ... It's [Russia's] losing $40/barrel. It's a big hit," he said.

EU solidarity aside, Russia's grinding invasion of Ukraine has also prompted Finland and Sweden to seek full Nato protection from their aggressive neighbour.

But a clash between Swedish and Turkish values now threatens to put the brakes on what had been the fastest membership application process in the alliance's history.

Nato values

A Swedish far-right politician burned a copy of the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm on Saturday, prompting outrage in Ankara, which has yet to ratify the Nato expansion, along with Hungary.

And the Koran-burning was a form of free speech that didn't break any Swedish laws, for instance on hate crimes, Sweden's Billström told press in Brussels on Monday.

"At the same time, we don't side with the people who committed this. The Swedish government doesn't support the burning of holy scriptures," he added.

"It has been disturbing but I think in the fullness of time, we [Turkey and Sweden] will find a way to sit down and continue discussions", Billström said.

But Stockholm and Ankara have also clashed over extraditions of Turkish exiles and over Swedish protesters' effigies of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

And speaking in Ankara later on Monday evening, the Turkish leader set the scene for potentially serious Nato delays.

"Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their Nato membership," Erdoğan said, according to Reuters.

"If you [Sweden] love members of terrorist organisations and enemies of Islam so much and protect them, then we advise you to seek their support for your countries' security," he said.

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