Germany said Friday it needed more time to decide whether to let its coveted Leopard 2 battle tanks be sent to Ukraine, putting off pleas from the government in Kyiv and disappointing U.S. and NATO allies eager to bolster Ukraine‘s forces against a possible new Russian advance.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rattled off a number of new military aid commitments emerging from a meeting of representatives of more than three dozen countries at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. But he acknowledged that the status of the Leopards — the big question mark coming into the meeting — was not resolved Friday.
The government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has issued increasingly urgent pleas for Western weaponry and tanks as Russian and Ukrainian forces jockey for advantage in Ukraine‘s south and east.
“Time is not an asset for us. … We seem always to be a couple of steps behind, and we should be a couple of steps ahead,” Yuriy Sak, a top Ukrainian Defense Ministry official, told Bloomberg TV. “There is no excuse to procrastinate.”
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters on the sidelines of the Ramstein gathering that Berlin was still weighing the request, but acknowledged his ministry was conducting an inventory of its tank fleet to see what could be spared.
The German coalition government has been divided over the wisdom of sending the tanks and also about moving ahead without political cover from other allies in the face of sharp Russian criticism.
But German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin that Mr. Scholz was no longer linking the Leopard deal to an agreement by the Biden administration to send U.S. M1-Abrams tanks to Ukraine as well, something the Pentagon has resisted.
“At no time has there been any deal or demand that one thing would follow on from another,” Mr. Hebestreit said, according to the Reuters news agency.
Poland, a strong supporter of the Zelenskyy government, has threatened to provide its Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv even without seeking a German export license.
“All our partners will surely want to behave in a law-abiding way,” Mr. Hebestreit said.
Mr. Austin declined to put new pressure on Germany on Friday, saying Washington was still awaiting Berlin’s decision.
“What we’re really focused on is making sure that Ukraine has the capability that it needs to be successful right now,” he said. “So we have a window of opportunity here between now and the spring or whenever they commence their offensive.”