Poland increases pressure to send German-built tanks to Ukraine

As pressure grows on Berlin to sign off on supplying Ukraine with German made tanks, Poland has suggested it will find a way regardless to support and supply its war-torn neighbour - Emma Murphy reports

Poland has said it is ready to send its German-built tanks to Ukraine without Berlin's permission.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that while it intends to ask Germany for its consent, the request is “a secondary matter”.

Germany has so far hesitated to approve sending tanks to Ukraine. But Polish officials took heart from remarks on Sunday by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that Berlin wouldn’t try to stop Poland from providing Leopard 2 battle tanks.

Prime Minister Morawiecki didn’t specify when the request to Germany will be made. He said that Poland is building a coalition of nations ready to send the tanks to Ukraine.

Because the tanks were supplied to countries under export licenses, Germany could veto their re-export.

Poland has become a leading advocate in the European Union for giving military aid to help Ukraine prevail 11 months after the Kremlin’s forces invaded.

Germany’s hesitation has drawn criticism, particularly from Poland and the Baltic countries on NATO’s eastern flank that feel especially threatened by Russia.

Although Berlin has provided substantial aid, it has been criticised for dragging its feet on providing military hardware.

German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said it was important for Germany not to take a “reckless” step it might regret, adding that a decision will not be rushed.

A Leopard 2 tank. Credit: AP

“These are hard questions of life and death,” he added. “We have to ask what this means for the defence of our own country.”

Pressed on how long a decision on sending tanks might take, Mr Hebestreit said: “I assume that it’s not a question of months now.”

The Ukrainian government says that tanks, and especially the Leopards, are vital for its war effort.

Previously, Polish officials have indicated that Finland and Denmark were ready to join Warsaw in sending Leopards to Ukraine. The United Kingdom has pledged to send Challenger tanks. French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday he asked his defence minister to “work on” the possibility of sending Leclerc battle tanks to Ukraine.

But Macron said a decision hinged on three criteria that have also weighed on the minds of other Western leaders: that sharing the equipment doesn’t lead to an escalation of the conflict; that it would provide efficient and workable help when training time is taken into account; and that it wouldn’t weaken his own military.

Poland's PM said on Monday: “Naturally, these are not easy talks, but we will be taking efforts to break this barrier of unwillingness in various countries.”

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Ms Baerbock, Germany’s top diplomat, told French television channel LCI on Sunday that Poland hasn’t formally asked for Berlin’s approval to share some of its Leopards, but added “if we were asked, we would not stand in the way”.

Regarding Ms Baerbock’s comments, Morawiecki said that “exerting pressure makes sense” and that her words are a “spark of hope” that Germany may even take part in the coalition.

According to Morawiecki, Germany has “more than 350 active Leopards and about 200 in storage.”

Poland wants to send a company of Leopard tanks, which means 14 of them, but they would barely make an impression in a war that involves thousands of tanks. If other countries contribute, Warsaw reckons, the tank detachment could grow to a brigade size.

Berlin has shown caution at each step of increasing its aid to Ukraine, a hesitancy seen as rooted in its history and political culture.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the latest developments on Western Europe sending tanks to Ukraine “signalled increasing nervousness among members of the alliance”.

Ukraine’s supporters pledged billions of dollars in military aid to Kyiv at a meeting Friday at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. International defence leaders discussed Ukraine’s urgent request for the Leopard 2 tanks, and the absence of an agreement overshadowed new military commitments.

In Brussels, EU foreign ministers gave the green light Monday to a further €500 million euro (£440 million) package of military support for Ukraine, as well as funds to help pay for a training mission for the bloc has set up for the country’s troops.

The money would be used to reimburse EU countries for weapons and ammunition they supply Ukraine. Another €45 million (£40 million) will pay for the 27-nation bloc’s military training mission this year.

Moscow, in response to the pledges of sophisticated Western weapons for Kyiv’s military, has stepped up its warnings that escalation risks catastrophe.

“We have said on numerous occasions that escalation is the most dangerous path, and the consequences may be unpredictable,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said. “Our signals are not listened to, and Russia’s adversaries keep raising the stakes."

With both sides’ battlefield positions mostly deadlocked during winter, the Kremlin’s forces have kept up their bombardments of Ukrainian areas.

Kharkiv Governor Oleh Synyehubov said Russian forces shelled several towns and villages in the northeastern region in the previous 24 hours, killing a 67-year-old woman and leaving another resident wounded.

Neither side shows signs of backing down as the war heads for a second year.

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