Pressure Mounting on Germany to Deliver Leopard 2 Tanks to Ukraine

Germany’s foreign minister said Sunday that Berlin wouldn’t object if Poland decides to send German-made tanks to Ukraine to aid it in its fight against Russian invaders.

Annalena Baerbock told French TV channel LCI that, while Poland has not requested permission to export its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, she said if the request were made, “we would not stand in the way.”

Ukraine has long sought heavy tanks to combat Russian forces using more modern tanks than those in Ukraine’s arsenal.  Until Baerbock’s comments Sunday, Germany has been reticent to send its own Leopard 2s to Ukraine or approve their transfer by countries who purchased the tanks from Germany.

Earlier Sunday, French and German officials held a summit in France to discuss additional weapons for Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz did not say whether Germany would agree to provide Ukraine with a delivery of battle tanks, but the Reuters news agency cited him as saying such decisions would be made in coordination with allies including the United States.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he does not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine. He cautioned, however, that sending tanks must not endanger France’s security or escalate the war between Ukraine and Russia.

British Foreign Minister James Cleverly said Sunday in an interview with Sky News he would like to see the Ukrainians “equipped with things like the Leopard 2.” U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, the newly installed Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told ABC’s “This Week” that the United States should offer its heavy Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine to encourage Germany to send its Leopard 2s as well.

“Just one Abrams tank would be enough to prompt allies, notably Germany, to unlock their own tank inventories for the fight against Russia,” he said.

US also urged to provide tanks

Democratic Senator Chris Coons also told ABC that it was time to set aside U.S. concerns about delivering the Abrams.

“I respect that our military leaders think the Abrams is too sophisticated, too expensive a platform to be as useful as the Leopards, but we need to continue to work with our close allies and move forward in lock step.”

Their comments Sunday echoed reactions of European officials Saturday against Germany’s indecision about sending its heavy tanks to Ukraine. Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics called on Berlin to “provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now.”

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas called for “many more” weapons to be sent to Ukraine and faster. Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau urged “action now.”

“Ukrainian blood is shed for real,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is the price of hesitation over Leopard deliveries,” he said.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Saturday expressed frustration with the slow pace of the military support the country’s allies are providing. “Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops will start training to use Leopard 2 battle tanks on Polish soil, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told VOA’s Ukrainian service Friday. Reznikov described the development as a breakthrough.

“I am optimistic regarding this because the first step has been made. We will start training programs for our tank crews on Leopard 2s,” Reznikov said.

Ukrainian corruption

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised Sunday he would continue to root out corruption in Ukraine’s government, Reuters reported.

The pledge came amid allegations of senior-level corruption, including a report of dubious practices in military procurement despite officials promoting national unity to confront the invasion, Reuters said.

“I want this to be clear: there will be no return to what used to be in the past, to the way various people close to state institutions or those who spent their entire lives chasing a chair used to live,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

Transparency International in 2021 ranked Ukraine’s corruption at 122 out of 180 countries.

Russia claims new advances

Russia’s defense ministry said for the second straight day Sunday that its forces were improving their positions in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region.

“During offensive operations in the direction of Zaporizhzhia, units of the Eastern Military District took up more advantageous ground and positions,” the defense ministry said.

It claimed to have inflicted casualties and destroyed equipment including Ukrainian fighting vehicles, howitzers and two U.S.-made HIMARS rockets. The Reuters news agency was not able to independently verify Russia’s battlefield accounts. Ukraine Saturday said Russia’s claims of progress in Zaporizhzhia were exaggerated.

Return of bodies

Saturday, the Wagner Group, the private Russian paramilitary group, announced through its RIA FAN website that it plans to send the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed during fighting in the captured town of Soledar to Ukraine-held territory.

The RIA FAN website, part of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s media holdings, quoted a Wagner commander as saying the mercenary company would send the bodies from Soledar to Ukrainian-held territory in four or five convoys totaling about 20 trucks.

Saturday’s report did not say how many bodies would be returned to Ukrainian authorities but claimed Ukraine’s forces had suffered heavy losses in Soledar.

It said Prigozhin had made clear that soldiers’ bodies should be returned to Ukraine in a “dignified” way but did not provide further details.

The White House has imposed new sanctions on Prigozhin’s paramilitary organization.

In a separate letter addressed to National Security Council coordinator John Kirby, Prigozhin’s press service asked, “Dear Mr. Kirby, could you please clarify what crime was committed by PMC Wagner?”

Kirby called Wagner “a criminal organization that is committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses.”

VOA’s Ruslan Petrychka contributed to this story. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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