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Germany dawdles on tanks as Kyiv waits

Vladimir Putin is expected to launch a spring offensive, and Ukraine needs heavy weapons to resist it.

A German Leopard battle tank.Alexander Koerner/Photographer: Alexander Koerner/

Ukraine’s existential battle has entered its second winter amid energy and power shortages, deprivations, and the nearly constant fear of Russian missile or drone attacks, even in the capital of Kyiv.

Ukraine — its citizens and its fighting forces — doesn’t lack the courage to continue fighting this unprovoked invasion. But as its leaders anticipate a major spring offensive by Russian forces, they do have an important ask of Western allies — heavy duty battle tanks to give Ukrainian forces a fighting chance against their better armed adversary.

Most NATO allies — especially those in Eastern Europe who once lived under the boot of Soviet oppression — are eager to support an effort to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, taken from European stockpiles of about 2,000 such vehicles scattered across the continent. But Germany, which requires countries to get its permission before reexporting German-made tanks, has spent the past week engaged in major diplomatic foot-dragging.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has yet to offer a coherent explanation for Berlin’s reluctance. That has left some leaders and military experts to speculate, some pointing to Germany’s crisis of conscience over its militaristic past, Scholz’s fears of crossing some imaginary red line with the Russians, or internal politics and recent polls showing a growing reluctance by the German public to send the tanks to Ukraine.


And so the diplomatic dance continues even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he is looking for about 300 of the heavy-duty vehicles — before the next Russian onslaught.

The British have already stepped up with 14 of their Challenger 2 tanks, and the French are considering sending their Leclerc tanks and have already pledged some AMX-10 light tanks. Other countries, including Poland, Morocco, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, have provided older Soviet-era tanks. The Ukrainians have also made use of a number of those Russian tanks left behind by the soldiers who fled the unexpected Ukrainian resistance they met during the early days of the war.


Recently the Pentagon announced it was sending 109 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers. But it continues to insist that its formidable but gas-guzzling M1 Abrams tanks (which typically run on jet fuel rather than the diesel fuel used by the Leopold 2) are difficult to maintain and would be even more difficult to deliver.

Still, the somewhat symbolic move of putting an Abrams tank or two in the belly of a C-5 Galaxy transport plane and shipping them off to Ramstein Air Base in Germany would be worth the effort if it would make German officials see the light on the issue of those Leopard tanks.

Michael McCaul, the newly named Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week” that “just one” Abrams tank might be enough to coax Germany into action. Democratic Senator Chris Coon also supported that strategy. By Tuesday, the Biden administration was sending signals that it was considering far more than one, with the New York Times reporting the United States would announce as soon as Wednesday that it would send up to 50 Abrams tanks.

Zelensky himself has noted that although a few dozen Western tanks might not be decisive on the battlefield, they would lift troops’ morale.


“They motivate our soldiers to fight for their own values,” Zelensky said in an interview with the German TV channel ARD Sunday. “Because they show that the whole world is with you.”

Poland jumped into the fray this week when its prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said he would submit a formal request to Germany for permission to transfer 14 of its tanks to Ukraine.

“We will not passively watch Ukraine bleed to death,” he told the Polish News Agency. “The Ukrainian people are fighting for our freedom.”

Morawiecki also vowed to put together a coalition of like-minded European allies. The foreign ministers of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia also weighed in in a published joint statement urging German action.

“This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly,” they wrote. “Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard.”

But German officials continue their waiting game.

“We are preparing our decision, which will come very soon,” Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Tuesday.

Ukraine waits. The world waits. And Vladimir Putin waits too. Every day of delay is a special gift to the man who decided to wage this war of aggression — and that’s something for Germany to ponder too.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.