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Germany dashed Ukrainian hopes that Berlin would finally decide on Friday to send modern battle tanks to Kyiv’s forces, with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius arguing there was no international agreement yet on the topic.
Speaking outside a meeting of defense ministers at the U.S. Ramstein military base in Germany, Pistorius said his government had still not agreed to a Ukrainian request for German’s Leopard 2 tanks to aid an expected spring offensive.
“We all cannot say today when a decision [on potentially sending Leopard tanks] will come and what it will look like,” he told reporters.
Instead, Pistorius said, he has instructed the German army to “review” how many and which Leopards it could send, so the government can “act quickly” once a final decision comes.
Several European allies have publicly asked Germany to at least grant permission for other countries to donate their own Leopard tanks — a necessary step because of export restrictions on the German-made vehicles.
Pistorius said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz still needed to make a decision on these requests.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated his call for tanks just hours before Pistorius spoke.
“We have to speed up,” he implored officials gathered in Ramstein. Friday was the moment, he insisted, not to debate details but to confirm one key principle: Kyiv’s partners will provide their modern tanks.
“It is in your power,” he said.
The continued delay in a decision comes after days of bewildering signals from German officials about whether they would allow the Leopard 2 tanks to go to Ukraine.
Allies have been imploring Germany to dispatch a fleet of Europe’s Leopard tanks to Kyiv’s forces. Berlin holds the key, given that it both manages its own cache of Leopards and must approve other countries’ donations of the German-made vehicle.
But Scholz has been reluctant to make a move, signaling both publicly and privately that he wants the U.S. to move first and ship its own tanks to Ukraine.
U.S. officials have balked at the request, noting their M1 Abrams tanks would be more difficult for the Ukrainians to operate and maintain. Instead, the U.S. is sending 100 other armored combat vehicles as part of a massive $2.5 billion aid package.
Pistorius argued it was “wrong” to say Germany is isolated on the issue, insisting there is no “united coalition” of other countries pushing for Leopard tanks, while Germany stands “in the way.” Instead, he said, there were many countries “very carefully” weighing the pros and cons of such deliveries.
Ukraine insists it needs these battle tanks to help resist Russia’s expected spring offensive. The war is entering a new phase, with the Russians digging trenches and laying mines throughout the winter — a development officials say necessitates more armored vehicles and tanks for Ukrainian forces hoping to break through.
“This is a crucial moment,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said when opening the Ramstein session on Friday morning. “Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip,” he warned, adding: “this is not a moment to slow down — it’s a time to dig deeper.”
Several European allies have replied to the call. The U.K. is sending its Challenger 2 tanks and the French are considering sending their Leclerc tanks. Meanwhile, scores of other European countries have also indicated they would join a broad coalition to send Leopards — if Germany gives its consent. Poland has even signaled it could act alone.
Experts say an effort to donate Leopards from across Europe would be useful logistically, given that the maintenance, training and supply lines could be arranged jointly.
“Poland is ready to donate a company of Leopard 2 tanks with 1000 pieces of ammunition,” said a statement signed by nine NATO allies and released on Thursday. “Pending this, a wider coalition of Leopard 2 tanks donors will be established.”
Germany has remained reticent in the face of such mounting pressure. While some senior officials hinted at a willingness to at least allow allies to donate their Leopards, Scholz has been stoical, nodding to his desire to wait for the U.S.
“We are never doing something just by ourselves, but together with others, especially the United States,” the chancellor said earlier this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos.