Poland will officially ask Germany for permission to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, the country’s Prime Minister said on Monday.
Mateusz Morawiecki has made it clear that Poland aims to transfer some of its own stock of the German-made armoured vehicles.
Ukraine is in desperate need of heavily armoured battle tanks to provide more mobility and protection for its troops on the ground before an expected new Russian offensive in the months ahead.
But because Leopards are made in Germany, the government in Berlin has the final say on how and where they are used — even if other countries are offering to send their own.
It has so far been hesitant to send its own Leopards, or allow other countries to do so.
But on Sunday, Germany said it "would not stand in the way" if Poland wanted to transfer its own vehicles.
"For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked we would not stand in the way," Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday.
Mr Morawiecki said Poland was building a “coalition of nations” ready to send Leopards, and that even without German permission Warsaw would make its own decisions.
“We will ask for permission but this is a secondary theme,” he said.
Challengers, Leopards, Abrams tanks - in photos
“Even if, eventually, we do not get this permission, we — within this small coalition — even if Germany is not in this coalition, we will hand over our tanks, together with the others, to Ukraine.”
Mr Morawiecki did not say when the request will be made.
Germany, one of the main donors of weapons to Ukraine, has ordered a review of its own Leopard 2 stocks in preparation for a potential deployment.
A decision is expected soon, Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said.
He told the ARD broadcaster: "The Leopard is a heavy, armoured weapon that can also be used for offensive purposes. And you have to think very carefully about when you bring them."
He said the decision about whether to send its own Leopards depended on several factors.
"Among other things, it is about the security of our own population and the claim that we do not want to become a party in the war," Mr Pistorius said.
"At the same time, we will support Ukraine with all our might to win this war."
Berlin has shown caution at each step of increasing its military aid to Ukraine, a hesitancy seen as rooted in its history and political culture.
But its tentativeness has drawn criticism, particularly from Poland and the Baltic states, countries on Nato’s eastern flank that feel especially threatened by Russia’s renewed aggression.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said he would like “nothing more” than to see Germany equip Ukrainian fighters with Leopards.
Speaking at the weekend, he said the tank was an “incredibly effective piece of military equipment” and suggested donations from Nato countries would go far in helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia.
So far, among Nato allies, only the UK has agreed to send heavy tanks — 14 of the British Army Challenger 2 model.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Monday reaffirmed Moscow’s claim that Western supplies could lead to “unpredictable consequences".
“We have said on numerous occasions that escalation is the most dangerous path and the consequences may be unpredictable,” he said.
“Our signals are not listened to and Russia’s adversaries keep raising the stakes.”
With both sides’ battlefield positions mostly deadlocked during the winter months, the Kremlin’s forces have kept up their bombardments of Ukrainian areas.
Kharkiv governor Oleh Synyehubov on Monday said Russian forces had shelled several towns and villages in the north-eastern region over the previous 24 hours, killing a 67-year-old woman and wounding another resident wounded.