Finally, and belatedly, the German government has agreed to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and to grant other countries permission to do the same. It has been a painful process to watch as Olaf Scholz came under intense pressure from Nato allies and within Germany to end his resistance to the request from Kyiv.
Mr Scholz’s reluctance was partly motivated by a concern that the mass dispatch of heavy armour to a war zone could lead to an escalation of the conflict. He might well have been correct in his assessment but was certainly wrong in his conclusion. This does mark a substantial stepping up of the West’s commitment to Ukraine’s defence and will be seen in Russia as confirmation that they are in a proxy war with Nato. Vladimir Putin will attempt to use it to deflect internal criticism of his woeful conduct of the war. But Ukraine’s allies are merely supporting its right, under international law, to defend its own sovereignty against monstrous invaders.
Despite the German decision taken by the cabinet in Berlin yesterday, there remain questions over timing and scale. Germany will send just 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its own fleet whereas Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, says at least 300 are needed.
Countries like Poland and Finland have also offered to send their Leopards but not in the numbers requested. Meanwhile, the Americans last night offered to send 31 of their M1 Abrams, a co-ordinated move that Germany insisted upon before acting itself. However, it is not clear exactly when the US armour will arrive. Time is of the essence because of a threatened Russian counter-offensive this spring, yet judging by the dithering that has already taken place and the vague timing, it is by no means apparent the Ukrainians will receive the numbers needed.
The best option would be as many Leopard 2s as are available to be sent. The number being referenced by some is 200. However, to be truly effective as a means of retaking lost territory, the tanks would need infantry back up and close air support. America is also dispatching its Bradley armoured personnel carriers and Kyiv is now asking for fighter jets, although Chancellor Scholz has already dismissed the idea.
Whatever help Ukraine receives needs to be agreed by Nato as a whole. Any divisions within this indispensable alliance will be mercilessly exploited by the Kremlin.