Poland seeks to send company of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Duda says



Poland intends to transfer a company of German-developed Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda told reporters Wednesday during a visit to western Ukraine, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

But Warsaw wants the tanks to be sent as part of a broader package of military aid backed by an international coalition, Duda said, suggesting that Poland will not unilaterally or immediately ship the advanced tanks to Ukraine.

Germany must approve the re-export of the Leopard tanks from Poland to Ukraine because the armored vehicles were manufactured in Germany. Steffen Hebestreit, a spokesman for the German Defense Ministry, said Berlin was not aware of such a request. The latest versions of the Leopards would probably outmatch most of Russia’s tanks in Ukraine, such as the T-72s.

A typical Polish tank company has 14 tanks, according to the Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform.

Zelensky said Kyiv expects a joint decision from European countries. A single country “cannot help us with ‘Leopards,’ because we are fighting against thousands of tanks of the Russian Federation,” he said in a statement after the meeting.

Although more than a dozen countries near Ukraine possess Leopard tanks, not all of the vehicles are in operable condition, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. “The more that countries donate tanks, the easier it will be to share the burden of giving them away,” it said in a column last year.

Inside the monumental, stop-start effort to arm Ukraine

Duda’s remarks come amid growing pressure in Europe on the German government to approve the shipment of advanced military gear to Ukraine such as the Leopards. No concrete plans for shipping Leopard tanks to Ukraine have been announced.

Last week, Poland’s deputy foreign minister told Polish radio that Warsaw wants European countries to send more modern tanks to Ukraine like the Leopard. German lawmaker Sara Nanni, a member of a party that is part of Germany’s ruling coalition, expressed support for Poland’s offer, tweeting a news story in which she was quoted as supportive of plans to ship Leopards to Ukraine.

Finnish lawmaker Atte Harjanne, who has repeatedly demanded that Europe send Leopards to Ukraine, launched a “free the Leopards” campaign that aims to pressure Berlin to permit the shipments of the Leopards.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has also repeatedly asked for more advanced tanks. “To win faster we need tanks,” it tweeted on Jan. 6.

Two days later, it tweeted a more cryptic message. “Abrams or Leopard? What’s your bet?” the ministry said, in reference to the U.S.-designed Abrams tank, which serves as the U.S. military’s main battle tank, and the German Leopards.

Ukraine’s supporters have shipped Soviet-era tanks to Kyiv since Russia’s invasion last year, but they have been reluctant to provide more modern armored vehicles until this month, when the United States pledged to send Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Germany promised a batch of Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles. France also announced a shipment of light tanks.

Poland and other NATO countries that lie closer to Russia have been more eager to provide Ukraine with modern military gear. In March, less than a month after the start of the Russian invasion, Poland offered to send MiG-29 fighters to Kyiv, using a U.S. base in Germany — a move that Washington opposed out of fear it could provoke Moscow.

U.S. officials have expressed sympathy for Ukraine’s need for tanks. Last week, Laura Cooper, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, told reporters that “we absolutely agree that Ukraine does need tanks.” She said that was partially why the United States had partnered with the Netherlands to provide Ukraine with refurbished Soviet-designed T-72 tanks.

Cooper said the United States and allies wanted to be sure that Ukraine could maintain modern tanks before agreeing to supply them. “We have to be cognizant of maintenance and sustainment considerations with tanks, and certainly we know that the Abrams tank, in addition to being a gas guzzler, is quite challenging to maintain,” she said.

Britain is also considering sending its main battle tank, the Challenger 2, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters, according to Reuters, but a final decision has not been made.

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