Germany found itself under intense and growing pressure Sunday as the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz weighed whether to authorize the shipment of its coveted Leopard-2 tanks to Ukraine.
Top U.S., Ukrainian and European officials all urged Berlin to act after a meeting of nations supporting Kyiv in its 11-month war with Russia failed to nail down an agreement at a summit at the American military base in Ramstein, Germany, on Friday.
Ukraine says it needs some 300 Western tanks to bolster its forces against dug-in Russian troops in eastern and southern Ukraine, as both sides prepare for expected new offensives when the weather allows.
A new intelligence assessment of the fighting over the weekend from the British Defense Ministry described an increasingly deadlocked struggle in Ukraine’s Donbas region, with new Russian overall commander Sergei Shoigu reorganizing his forces and apparently settling in for a long, grinding war of attrition.
Germany has balked so far at supplying its own Leopard-2 tanks to Ukraine or authorizing other European countries such as Poland to transfer their own Leopard-2 tanks to Ukraine, in part because of divisions within Mr. Scholz’s own coalition government and in part for fear the move would prove too provocative to the Kremlin.
Berlin officials have also suggested agreeing to ship the Leopards in tandem with a U.S. move to authorize the heavy-armored M1-Abrahms tank as well, but the Biden administration has rejected that move.
“Today’s indecision is killing more of our people,” Mykhailo Podolyak, a top advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted Sunday. ” Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster.”
A delegation of U.S. lawmakers and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on visits to Kyiv in recent days also expressed frustration with the delay.
“I am tired of the s—-show of who is going to send tanks and when they are going to send them,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told reporters. “To the Germans: Send tanks to Ukraine, because they need the tanks. It is in your interest that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin loses in Ukraine.”
Poland, Ukraine’s neighbor and one of its strongest backers inside NATO, has warned it may transfer more than a dozen of its German-made Leopards to Kyiv without authorization should Berlin continue to delay, telling the Agence France-Presse on Sunday that Germany’s attitude “is unacceptable.”
Ukraine and its allies “will win this war with Germany or without it,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.
The Biden administration and its Western European allies appear to be applying pressure behind the scenes on Mr. Scholz’s government while in public giving Berlin time and space to make its decision.
Germany has done a huge amount already,” British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told Sky News in an interview Sunday, while saying he strongly supported supplying the tanks to Kyiv. “And it’s worth remembering that they come from a very different starting point in terms of their defense posture.”
Russia for its part is stepping up warnings that the massive flow of U.S. and Western aid to Ukraine — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin outlined another multi-billion U.S. security package at Ramstein last week — is making the risk of an ever-larger war more likely by the day.
Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian parliament and an ally of Mr. Putin, warned that a “global catastrophe” was brewing if the arms flow continued.
“If Washington and NATO countries supply weapons that will be used to strike civilian cities and attempt to seize our territories, as they threaten, this will lead to retaliatory measures using more powerful weapons,” Mr. Volodin said on the Telegram messaging app.
Mr. Scholz and a large delegation of German officials were in Paris Sunday to mark the 60th anniversary of a friendship treaty signed in the early 1960s.
He gave no sign of movement on the tank issue in brief remarks to reporters, but said both France and Germany were prepared to back Ukraine in the war for “as long as it takes.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.