Germany hits back in row over Leopard tanks

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius says Berlin is 'doing more than practically any other ally except the US to assist Ukraine'

Swiss soldiers are seen in a Leopard 2 tank. The workhorse of many European armies has been long sought by Kyiv in its war with Russia. Reuters
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Germany will help Ukraine win its war against Russia, Defence Minister Boris Pistorius insisted on Tuesday, as the country continues to prevaricate over whether to supply Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv.

Mr Pistorius said Germany was "doing more than practically any other ally except the US" to assist Ukraine.

"We are supporting Ukraine not to lose this war, to win it against Russia," he said in an interview with the broadcaster ZDF.

Asked when Berlin was planning to make a decision on German-made Leopard tanks — the workhorse of European armies, and which have been long sought by Kyiv — Mr Pistorius said it was not up to him.

"This decision will be made in the chancellery," he said.

Russia said on Tuesday that the delivery of the Leopards would "bring nothing good to the future relationship" between Berlin and Moscow.

"They will leave a lasting mark," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in his daily briefing.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meanwhile announced major personnel changes following allegations of corruption among officials, which threatened to damage trust in the embattled nation.

On Monday, Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said the country plans to ask Germany for permission to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine – but will ultimately go ahead regardless.

Because Leopards are made in Germany, the government in Berlin has the final say on how and where they are used, even if other countries are offering to send their own.

But it has so far been hesitant to send its own Leopards, or allow other countries to do so.

Ukrainians hold rallies calling for Leopard tanks - in pictures

Mr Pistorius said allies were free to start training Ukrainian troops on the Leopards while Germany makes up its mind.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after meeting Mr Pistorius in Berlin that he was confident the row would be solved soon.

"We have no indication that [Russia's] President Putin has changed his goals. He wants to control Ukraine and is planning new offensives," Mr Stoltenberg said.

"We must provide heavier and more advanced systems so that Ukrainian forces are able to repel the Russian forces, not only to survive but to win, take back territory and prevail as a sovereign, independent state."

Speaking on Tuesday morning on BBC’s Radio 4’s Today show, German opposition politician Norbert Roettgen blamed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz personally for the delay.

“There is a deep split within the government, the Chancellor and the SPD on the one side, who are fiercely resisting adequate and very much needed weapons, like the Leopard, to Ukraine in order to make sure Ukraine can win,” he said.

“And the other two coalition partners, the Greens and liberals, the FDP, they are very much in favour of delivering weapons for a long time.”

Challengers, Leopards, Abrams tanks - in photos

The German MP from the CDU party said there has been a “clear majority” in the Bundestag to send Ukraine heavy weapons "for months".

“We are having this for months because the situation has been very clear for a very long time and [Mr Scholtz] has been blocking it effectively for months, at least since summer.

“If the international pressure gets so strong, so heavy, so that the isolation of Germany would be visible to everyone else, this would be international pressure that would perhaps make him change the course. This is what we all hope for.”

He said he does expect the Chancellor to eventually relent and allow the export of the tanks.

According to a report by ABC in the US, quoting a senior Ukrainian official, 12 countries have agreed to supply Kyiv with about 100 Leopard 2 tanks, if the German government consents to their re-export.

German defence group Rheinmetall has said it could deliver 139 Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine if required, the company told media group RND.

The manufacturer said it could deliver 29 Leopard 2A4 tanks by April or May and a further 22 of the same model around the end of this year or in early 2024, Rheinmetall said.

It could also supply 88 older Leopard 1 tanks, a company representative said, without giving a timetable for their potential delivery.

Several major personnel changes were announced in Ukraine on Tuesday following allegations of corruption among officials.

Mr Zelenskyy said the changes, which will be made at both senior and lower levels, are part of a crackdown which will involve toughening oversight.

"There are already personnel decisions — some today, some tomorrow — regarding officials at various levels in ministries and other central government structures, as well as in the regions and in law enforcement," Mr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address late on Monday.

He did not identify the officials to be replaced. Several Ukrainian media outlets have reported that cabinet ministers and senior officials could be sacked imminently.

Several resignations were announced on Tuesday, including the deputy head of Ukraine's presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, who asked Mr Zelenskyy to relieve him of his duties.

Deputy head of Ukraine's Presidential Office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, holds up a note as he tenders his resignation. Telegram

He did not give a reason but media reported earlier that he might be part of a shake-up.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who was responsible for supplying troops with food and equipment, resigned on Tuesday, citing “media accusations” of corruption that he and the ministry say are baseless.

Ukraine’s Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko was also removed from his post “according to his own wish”, the prosecutor general’s office said.

On Sunday, anti-corruption police said they had detained the Deputy Infrastructure Minister on suspicion of receiving a $400,000 kickback over the import of generators last September, an allegation the minister denies.

A newspaper accused the Defence Ministry of overpaying suppliers for soldiers' food. The supplier has said it made a technical mistake and no money had changed hands.

David Arakhamia, head of Mr Zelenskyy's Servant of the People party, said officials should "focus on the war, help victims, cut bureaucracy and stop dubious business".

"We're definitely going to be jailing actively this spring. If the humane approach doesn't work, we'll do it in line with martial law," he said.

Ukrainians hold rallies calling for Leopard tanks - in pictures

Updated: January 24, 2023, 11:23 AM