LONDON - Germany and its European allies plan to send around 80 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in the coming weeks, according to Berlin, which announced the change of policy this week following intense pressure from Kyiv and its Western partners.
The Leopard 2 is considered one of the world's most powerful tanks and well-suited to the Ukraine conflict.
Britain and the United States are also sending dozens of their main battle tanks. The decision marks a significant step up in Western weapons supplies to Ukraine and is being seen by NATO as a pivotal moment in the war - one that also draws Western nations deeper into the conflict.
Germany not only plans to send 14 tanks but has also permitted allies to send their German-made Leopard tanks. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the tanks should be delivered by the end of March.
'My primary task now is to enter into talks with the defense industry with the aim of significantly speeding up procurement times,' Pistorius said Thursday during a visit to an army training camp. 'If you look at ammunition, there is also the issue of quantity. ... I will also hold initial talks with the arms industry on this issue, probably as early as next week,' he added.
Poland, Spain, Norway and Finland have all said they were willing to send Leopard 2 tanks. Canada announced Thursday it would send four of the tanks to Kyiv.
Germany said Wednesday the total should amount to two battalions, or around 80 vehicles.
Time and strategy
In addition, Ukraine will receive 14 British Challenger 2 tanks in the coming weeks and 31 U.S. Abrams tanks from the United States later in the year. Ukrainian troops will require several weeks of training on the different equipment, said John Lough, an associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia program at the London-based policy institute Chatham House.
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'The Ukrainians have proved to be, I think, remarkably capable of absorbing Western military assistance. But it does take time, and time is not on their side, given that spring is round the corner and there's an expectation that Russia is going to mount some form of major offensive,' Lough told VOA.
Ukraine will have to decide how to integrate the tanks into its armed forces.
'The tanks will make a real difference,' said Ed Arnold, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, a defense and security think tank in the U.K. 'Ukraine will still need to decide, actually, how they use these tanks. Do they put them straight into the fight as soon as they're available? Or do they integrate them into larger formations, train and rehearse those larger formations, and spend a bit more time integrating them into the way that they fight to then potentially use in the summer?' Arnold told the Reuters news agency.
'Pivotal' moment in the war
NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described the decision to send tanks as a 'pivotal moment.'
'We must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster,' Stoltenberg said.
Angela Stent, a Russia expert at Georgetown University in Washington, said the delivery of Western main battle tanks to Ukraine is further evidence of Russian President Vladimir Putin's miscalculation.
'What Vladimir Putin is hoping for and has been for the past few months is that this kind of threat of intimidation and then weariness in the Europeans - particularly for the impact that sanctions is having on their own economies - that all those things will cause the transatlantic unity on this to break. But so far, it hasn't. We've seen the opposite,' Stent told Reuters.
Kyiv says it needs 300 tanks - far more than it is likely to receive in the coming months. Ukraine also says it needs Western fighter jets such as the American F-16 to defeat the Russian invasion. Could that be the next barrier for the West to overcome?
'As air forces in Europe and the U.S. modernize, they have older equipment that they potentially could give to Ukraine. It would be another escalatory measure. But I think at the moment what they want to do is see how Ukraine gets on with the tanks and then assess from there,' Arnold said.
The West is now heavily invested in the Ukraine war. Its flagship battle tanks, crewed by Ukrainians, will soon go head-to-head with Russian armor on the steppes of Europe.
John Lough of Chatham House said the West must be clear about the implications.
'Sending this level of equipment in these quantities means that NATO countries are, I think, effectively entering the war,' Lough said. 'Of course, indirectly, but they are, because they are becoming the critical sole source of supply to the Ukrainian armed forces.
'This could go on for a very long time,' Lough continued. 'The Russians recognize this, and we can tell from Putin's messaging to Russian society that he is preparing the country for a long war. The question, I think, however, on the Western side is whether Western governments are prepared to do the same thing with their own societies.'