Germany would not stand in the way if Poland wants to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock said late on Sunday, signaling a possible breakthrough for Ukraine as it tries to bolster its forces ahead of an expected new Russian offensive.
Eleven months after Russia invaded its southern neighbor, the fighting is centered on the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s east, where Russia’s Wagner mercenaries and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a battle of attrition.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said for the second straight day on Sunday that its forces were improving their positions in Ukraine’s southern region of Zaporizhzhia, although a Ukrainian military spokesperson told the state broadcaster the situation there was “difficult,” but stable.
Reuters was not able to independently verify battlefield accounts.
Ukrainian officials have been calling on Western allies to supply them with the modern German-made tanks for months, but Berlin has held back from sending them or allowing other NATO countries to do so.
Leopard tanks, which are held by an array of NATO countries, but whose transfer to Ukraine requires Berlin’s approval, are seen by defense experts as the most suitable for Ukraine.
Western allies last week pledged billions of dollars in weapons for Ukraine, but they failed to persuade Germany to lift its veto on providing the tanks.
However, in an apparent shift in Germany’s position, Baerbock said her government would not block Poland if it were to send its Leopard 2 tanks without German approval.
“For the moment the question has not been asked, but if we were asked we would not stand in the way,” she told France’s LCI TV, when asked about her government’s reaction to any such Polish decision.
Germany has been under heavy pressure to let Leopards go to Ukraine, but German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is traditionally skeptical of military involvements and wary of sudden moves that could trigger Russia to escalation.
Baerbock’s remarks appeared to go further than Scholz’s comments at a summit in Paris earlier on Sunday that all decisions on weapons deliveries would be made in co-ordination with allies, including the US.
Ukraine says the heavily armored battle tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive expected in coming months.
However, Germany has appeared to have tied any such contribution to a US move to send its Abrams tanks, something US officials have said they are reluctant to do because the vehicles are complicated to maintain.
US lawmakers in Sunday pushed their government on Sunday to export M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine, saying that even sending a symbolic number would be enough to push European allies to do the same.
Britain recently said it was supplying 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. British Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly on Sunday said it still wanted an international deal to provide Ukraine with the German-made tanks.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Ukraine Leclerc tanks.
Last week, the Kremlin’s spokesman said Western countries supplying additional tanks to Ukraine would not change the course of the conflict, but would add to the problems of Ukrainians.
A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said that deliveries of offensive weapons to Kyiv that threaten Russia’s territories would lead to a global catastrophe and make arguments against using weapons of mass destruction untenable.
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