PARIS, Jan 22 (Reuters) – Germany’s foreign minister said on Sunday his government would not stand in the way if Poland wanted to send its Panther 2 tanks to Ukraine, in a possible breakthrough for Kiev, which wants tanks to fight a Russian invasion. .
Ukrainian officials have called on Western allies for months to supply them with modern German-made tanks – but Berlin has so far held back from sending them or allowing other NATO countries to do so.
Asked what would happen if Poland went ahead and sent its Panther 2 tanks without German permission, Annalena Berbach on France’s LCI TV said: “The question has not been asked at the moment, but we will not stand in the way if we are asked.”
The comments came on top of comments by German Chancellor Olaf Scholes at a summit in Paris earlier on Sunday that all decisions on arms deliveries would be made in coordination with allies, including the United States.
Germany is under heavy pressure to allow leopards into Ukraine. But Scholz’s Social Democratic Party is traditionally skeptical of military engagements and wary of sudden moves that could further escalate Moscow.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said on Sunday that he expected a decision on the tanks soon, but struck a note of caution.
Pistorius told ARD TV that Germany would not make a hasty decision because the government had to consider many factors, including the domestic consequences for the security of the German people.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeated his long-standing plea for tanks in a meeting Sunday with former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is visiting Kiev.
“We need more weapons: tanks, planes, long-range missiles,” Zelenskiy said, according to a statement on his website.
Ukraine says armored Western battle tanks will give Ukrainian ground forces greater mobility and protection, ahead of a new Russian offensive that Kyiv expects in the near future. It will also help Ukraine regain some of the territories it lost to Russia.
After the Paris summit, Scholz told a news conference that all arms deliveries to Ukraine took place in close coordination with Western partners. He said he will do that in the future.
Speaking at the same news conference, French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine.
Macron said the deployment of tanks should not escalate the situation, take into account the time needed to effectively train the Ukrainians, and not endanger France’s own security.
“Regarding the Leclercs, I asked the defense minister to work, but nothing has been ruled out,” Macron said, adding that the move would have to be coordinated with allies such as Germany in the coming days and weeks.
German sources have told Reuters that the US would allow Ukraine to send German-made tanks to aid its defense against Russia if it agreed to send its own tanks. But U.S. officials have said President Joe Biden’s administration is not ready to send its own tanks, including the M1 Abrams.
A Kremlin spokesman said on Friday that Western countries supplying Ukraine with additional tanks would not change the course of the conflict and would only add to the problems of the Ukrainian people.
Andreas Ringe and Lee Thomas report; Additional reporting by Tom Sims, Lydia Kelly and Humera Pamuk; Editing by David Holmes, Andrew Heavens and Diane Croft
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