*Right decision – UK
*Sweden too may send
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has agreed to supply Ukraine with Leopard two battle tanks, sources told dpa on Tuesday.
The offer comes after weeks of pressure on Berlin to offer Kiev heavier weapons to beat back Russian forces.
Berlin is also granting other countries, such as Poland and Finland, the licence to re-export the German-made tanks to Ukraine, the sources in government circles said.
Countries that bought military weapons from Germany were generally required to obtain permission from Berlin before transferring those weapons to another country.
Scholz had held out for months against the growing chorus of people urging him to send Kiev the tanks, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, NATO allies and members of his coalition government.
The backlash from other European capitals especially in Poland and the Baltics had intensified in recent days. Zelinsky’s line also toughened, saying Berlin’s foot-dragging was killing Ukrainians.
Zelensky reacted cautiously to reports that Scholz has agreed to supply Ukraine with the tanks.
“A lot of effort, words, and promises,’’ he said in his daily video address late Tuesday.
“But it is important to see the reality. It is not about five, or ten, or fifteen tanks.
“The need is greater. Every day we are doing everything necessary to fill the deficit. And I am grateful to everyone who supports us in this,’’ the Ukrainian president added.
According to Zelensky, the discussions on the delivery of tanks have to end with “decisions.to really strengthen our defence against terrorists.’’
Kiev’s first official request for the Leopards came just days after the war started 11 months ago.
It remained unknown about Berlin’s decision, including the number of Leopards and whether it is linked to Washington sending its own battle tanks.
Der Spiegel reported the decision involved at least one company of Leopard 2A6 tanks, which is a newer version. Generally, equipping a company means handing over 14 tanks.
“The Leopard’s freed!’’ tweeted Bundestag Vice President Katrin Göring-Eckardt, of the Green Party, on Tuesday evening.
The Greens are part of Scholz’s three-way coalition.
Questions over the deliveries have exposed cracks in the coalition, with the Greens and liberal Free Democrats urging more military support while Scholz’s Social Democrats have been more hesitant.
Germany is one of Ukraine’s biggest military donors.
But there is scepticism about the value of sending tanks among a significant swathe of the German public, who worry it could draw Germany more deeply into an escalating war in Eastern Europe.
Scholz had also argued he needed to be in lockstep with the United States.
Recent reports said Berlin had been asking Washington to send comparable tanks, like the M1 Abrams.
The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and other U.S. media outlets reported Tuesday that the Biden administration was now poised to reverse course and send Ukraine those Abrams tanks.
An official confirmation from Washington could come as early as Wednesday, according to reports, estimating that the planned delivery might entail up to 50 M1 Abrams tanks.
Neither the White House nor the Pentagon confirmed the reports on Tuesday.
So far, Washington has rejected the idea of sending the Abrams arguing that it was not practical to supply Ukraine with the tanks.
The front line in eastern Ukraine has barely moved for weeks.
With the tanks, Ukraine hoped to claw back more terrain seized by Russia.
Analysts said that Russia is preparing a major spring offensive.
The German government played a key role in the Leopard supply issue and held the power to decide what other countries can acquire the German-built, state-of-the-art tanks.
When military equipment was sold to other countries, so-called end-use clauses were always built into the contracts.
These stipulate that the German government must approve any transfer to third countries.
Of the 14 European states that have Leopard tanks, only Finland and Poland have so far publicly signalled their willingness to deliver them to Ukraine.
No Western-designed heavy tanks have been delivered to Ukraine for defensive combat against Russian attackers.
Britain, however, has pledged 14 Challenger tanks.
So far, Ukraine had received only Soviet-made tanks that were in the inventory of Eastern European NATO countries.
Polish President Andrzej Duda recently announced that the country intended to supply Ukraine with 14 Leopards.
Poland has a total of 247 Leopard two tanks in three different versions (A4, A5 and PL) purchased in 2002 and 2013 in two tranches from the Bundeswehr’s stocks.
Germany has been supplying weapons to Ukraine since the beginning of the war, including heavy artillery pieces and air defence systems.
It has also already delivered Marder infantry fighting vehicles, which are significantly less powerful than the Leopard two.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday that Germany and other NATO allies’ decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was the “right decision”.
The UK prime minister expressed this thought in a tweet.
“The right decision by NATO Allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower.
“Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace,” Sunak said on Twitter.
Sweden currently does not have plans to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine but does not rule out sending them in the future, according to Defence Minister Pål Jonson said.
“At present, no preparations are being made for a donation of tanks from Sweden, but it is not excluded that this may happen at a later stage,” Jonson said.
Earlier on Friday the Swedish defence minister said there were generally no objections to sending tanks to Ukraine.
Germany wants to deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and also allow other countries like Poland to do so.
The Swedish military has about 120 Leopard-2 tanks, which are called Stridsvagn 122 in Sweden.
According to media reports, Norway is also thinking about sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
The government in Oslo is currently considering this.
A decision has not yet been made.
Media reports says that it would be possible for Norway to provide Ukraine with up to eight of its 36 Leopard tanks.