One hundred Leopard 2 tanks are ready to be shipped to the Ukrainian front lines pending approval from Germany under an agreement reached behind closed doors at a US air base, according to a Ukrainian official.
Twelve countries including Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain are committed to sending the tanks after a senior Ukrainian official told ABC News that a deal was reached last Friday.
Germany’s Leopard tanks are widely seen as the best fit for Ukrainian forces looking to breakthrough the war of attrition in southern and eastern Ukraine, but Berlin must authorise their sale.
German defence minister Boris Pistorius told the broadcaster ZDF: “I am preparing for a possible decision to send the Leopard tanks and to allow other European and Nato partners to do the same.
He added: “If the decision takes one or two days, then that’s just the way it is.”
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is confident the alliance will find a solution soon on the delivery of battle tanks to Ukraine, he said after meeting Germany’s defence minister on Tuesday.
“At this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster,” Stoltenberg told reporters.
“I therefore welcome our discussion today. We discussed the issue of battle tanks. Consultations among allies will continue and I’m confident we will have a solution soon,” Stoltenberg added.
It came after the German chancellor Olaf Scholz appeared to overrule his own foreign minister as pressure increased on his government to provide tanks to the Ukrainian war effort.
But on Monday evening, a spokesman for Mr Scholz insisted Poland would have to follow an “established procedure” if it wanted to give the German-made tanks to Kyiv.
Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrat party argues the West should avoid sudden moves that might escalate the war. But several EU allies reject that position, saying Russia is already fully committed to its 11-month-old assault on Ukraine.
German defence group Rheinmetall could deliver 139 Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine if required, a spokesperson for the company told media group RND.
Manufacturer Rheinmetall could deliver 29 Leopard 2A4 tanks by April/May and a further 22 of the same model around the end of 2023 or early 2024, the spokesperson was quoted as saying.
It could also supply 88 older Leopard 1 tanks, the person said, without giving a timeframe for their potential delivery.
American lawmakers have pressed their government to export M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, saying even a symbolic number would help push European allies to do the same.
Britain has said it will supply 14 Challenger 2 tanks. French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks.
Ukraine and Russia are both believed to be planning spring offensives to break the deadlock in what has become a war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine.