'I am Tired of This S***show': Washington and Kiev Fume as Berlin Holds Off on Tanks for Ukraine
11:30 GMT 21.01.2023 (Updated: 12:59 GMT 21.01.2023)
© AP Photo / Diether EndlicherThe crew of a 'Buffalo' wrecker tank, right, of the German Army lifts the engine of a Leopard 2 battle tank, left, for repair during a demonstration at the Bayern Barracks in Munich, southern Germany. File photo.
© AP Photo / Diether Endlicher
Washington and its allies have put pressure on Berlin to become the first continental European NATO power to send large quantities of heavy main battle tanks to Ukraine, despite fears that doing so would escalate tensions with Moscow. On Friday, US and German officials announced that no decision on the tanks had been made.
“You may have heard the German minister of defense say earlier that they’ve not made a decision on the provision of Leopard tanks,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Friday at a subdued joint press conference with Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley following a lengthy meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
“What we're really focused on is making sure that Ukraine has a capability it needs to be successful right now. So we have a window of opportunity here between now and the spring when I – whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive, and that’s not a long time. And we have to pull together the right capabilities," Austin said.
The Pentagon chief added that he had "no announcements" on the supply of the US' gas-guzzling jet engine-powered M1 Abrams tanks to Kiev, either.
Ukrainian officials did not hide their disappointment with Germany’s perceived indecisiveness. Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk, the ex-ambassador to Germany who was recalled over an endless string of insults of German officials, demanded that Berlin "stop hiding behind" Washington and "put an end to this crazy Punch and Judy show around Leopards today at Ramstein and clear the way for a global tank coalition to empower Ukraine to kick out Russian troops."
20 January, 16:13 GMT
Calling Berlin’s calculation not to send tanks before the US does an “embarrassment…disgrace and huge disappointment,” Melnyk also attacked Berlin over the €1 billion euros in promised military aid, complaining that “all those weapons were already advertised” in previous aid packages. “What a fudge,” he wrote.
Freshly appointed German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has promised to check the Bundeswehr’s armory to determine how many Leopards it has and how many could be sent to Ukraine, but offered no firm commitments on deliveries. "It’s not prejudging the decision – it's simply preparing for that day that might come," Pistorius said Friday on the sidelines of the meeting at Ramstein. The minister added that there were “many allies” within NATO who share Berlin’s apprehensions on sending tanks to Kiev.
Bundestag Defense Committee Chairwoman Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann slammed Pistorius’ position, saying it was "alarming that it took a new defense minister to check how many Leopard tanks we have, only now, 11 months" into the conflict in Ukraine.
Berlin's Western partners also grumbled over the Scholz government’s apprehensions, some privately, some openly. "American partnership and a new defense minister provided the perfect cover for Scholz to move on this. But he dodged it, infuriating half his partners," one anonymous Western diplomat in Berlin said.
"I am tired of the s***show of who is going to send tanks and when they are going to send them,” hawkish South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham vented Friday. “To the Germans: send tanks to Ukraine, because they need the tanks. It is in your interest that Putin loses in Ukraine. To the Biden administration: send American tanks so that others will follow our lead," he urged.
Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal echoed Graham's frustration, demanding that NATO allies "stop the confusion and the chaotic debate about who sends tanks and when."
Former Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleg Soskin accused Kiev’s Western patrons of "fooling" Ukraine, alleging that the Russian president had “intimidated them to such an extent that Biden – this wax mummy from Madame Tussauds, and Scholz…will not give us anything.”
Soskin also dismissed Washington’s assertion that Abrams tanks are too heavy and difficult to maintain in the Ukrainian environment as excuses. "Germany tells us: We will not give you Leopards. Biden says: We won’t give you Abrams. They’re heavy. This is nonsense," he said.
Why is Germany Hesitant?
Commenting on the debate over tanks, Uppsala University Professor of Peace Studies Maria Cristina Rosas suggested that Berlin is showing that it doesn’t want to get sucked any further into the conflict militarily, and wants to focus on humanitarian issues instead.
“Germany doesn’t want problems with Russia – that’s the reality. If Germany sends tanks, it will become too involved in the conflict, which will exacerbate the already difficult relationship with Russia. It’s one thing to be Germany and have Russia as a neighbor, and another to be the United States and have the Atlantic Ocean between them," Rosas explained.
What are Leopards?
Developed during the final decade of the Cold War and operated by nearly two dozen countries around the world, the Leopard 2 is a heavy diesel-powered third generation main battle tank featuring composite armor, anti-mine protection, a 120 mm main gun, and 2x7.62 mm MG-3 machineguns. Of the estimated 3,600 produced, about 2,000 are operated by about a dozen European countries, among them the Nordic countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Turkey also operates them. Germany operates just a fraction of the Leopard 2s in service, with its inventory consisting of just 328 tanks.
Leopard 2s were used by NATO forces during the occupation of Afghanistan, and Turkish forces used them in anti-Kurdish operations in Syria. At least two Leopard 2s were destroyed by improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, with at least eight Turkish ones knocked out by IEDs and ancient Soviet-made AT-5 Konkurs and AT-7 Metis anti-tank missiles in Syria.
The Leopard 2s' American "cousins" have fared little better in active conflict zones. While just 23 were damaged or destroyed during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, over 500 were wrecked or suffered damage severe enough to require them to be shipped back to the US for repairs following the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Since 2014, the self-proclaimed Daesh* caliphate captured at least nine Abrams tanks from the Iraqi Army, with the terrorists releasing footage of the destruction of an Abrams using an anti-tank guided missile.
* Daesh, also known as IS / ISIS / Islamic State is a terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.