UK Foreign Secretary wants 'nothing more' than to see German Leopard tanks in Ukraine

Berlin resisting calls from Kyiv to speed up delivery of tanks

Members of Germany's armed forces stand in front of a Leopard 2 tank during a military exercise. Getty
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Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said he would like “nothing more” than to see Germany equip Ukrainian fighters with tanks, as politicians in Berlin grapple over the proposals.

He said the German-made Leopard 2 tank is an “incredibly effective piece of military equipment” and suggested donations from Nato countries would go far in helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

For the past week much of the conversation on the Ukraine war has centred on Germany.

Ukraine says the heavily armoured battle tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive expected in coming months.

But the international community continues to wait to see whether Berlin will give the green light for German-manufactured tanks to end up on Ukrainian battlefields.

The outcome of the question, which has yet to be answered, could significantly tilt the balance in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Later on Sunday, Germany's foreign minister said the country would not stand in the way if Poland wants to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

"For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked we would not stand in the way," Annalena Baerbock told France's LCI TV, when asked about her government's reaction to any such Polish decision.

Among the Nato allies, only Britain has agreed to send tanks — 14 of the British Army Challenger 2 model.

Speaking on Sunday, Mr Cleverly said he would like to see German tanks in the hands of Ukrainians fighting to protect their homeland.

But he stopped short of criticising Berlin for its reluctance to give into the demands of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

In an interview on the BBC's Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme, Mr Cleverly hailed Germany for being a “huge contributor” in aid for Ukraine, a point which he said should not be ignored.

“Both in terms of its hosting of refugees, in terms of its provision of military equipment, economic aid and also in terms of its application of sanctions,” he said.

German Leopard 2 tanks during a military drill. AFP

“Ultimately, it's for every sovereign government to decide how they are best able to support the Ukrainians as a member of Nato.”

However, the Foreign Secretary stressed there is nothing he would like more than to see the Ukrainians equipped “with those most up-to-date armoured vehicles”.

“Over Christmas and in the new year, I had conversations with the Defence Secretary, with the Prime Minister, other senior members of government, about our posture with regard to Ukraine,” he said.

“The Prime Minister decided quite rightly that the most humane thing to do is to bring this war to a swift conclusion and for the Ukrainians to be successful in the defence of the homeland.

“That is why we made the commitment to significantly increase our military support to Ukraine, to help them defend themselves, including with Challenger 2 tanks.

“I would like nothing more than to see the Ukrainians equipped with those most up-to-date armoured vehicles, both tanks and artillery, and others. The Leopard 2 is an incredibly effective piece of military equipment. I would like nothing more than to see the Ukrainians armed with Leopard 2.”

Mr Cleverly’s assertion came after a pledging conference in Germany last Friday ended without a commitment by western allies to send more battle tanks to Ukraine.

Mr Zelenskyy had urged decision-makers at the summit to “speed up” the delivery of tanks.

Speaking at the conclusion of the Ramstein gathering, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said while time was of the essence for Ukraine to take the fight to the Russians in the spring, Kyiv’s forces are still well-equipped even without the Leopards.

“Ukraine is not dependent on a single platform,” he said.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said he could not say when a decision on the tanks would be made. But he said Berlin was prepared to act quickly if there was a consensus among allies.

“All pros and cons must be weighed very carefully,” he said.

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Updated: January 23, 2023, 7:40 AM
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