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Germany backs tanks, Ukraine quits Soledar

The first Leopard battle tanks from Germany could be in Ukraine in three or four months, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius says.

January 26, 2023
26 January 2023

Germany says it will supply its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, overcoming misgivings about sending heavy weaponry that Ukrainian officials consider crucial to defeat Russia’s invasion.

Pressure has been building for weeks on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government to send the tanks and allow NATO allies to do the same before expected northern hemisphere spring offensives by both sides.

Scholz’s government had stalled, wary of moves that could prompt Russia to escalate the war or draw the NATO military alliance into becoming a party to the conflict.

Germany’s decision paves the way for other countries such as Poland, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway to supply some of their Leopard tanks to Ukraine, going some way towards delivering the hundreds of tanks that Ukraine says it needs.

“Germany will always be at the forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine,” Scholz told German parliament to applause, “…because there really is a war in Europe – not far from here in Berlin it is taking place against a big country like Ukraine.”

Germany must do everything possible “but at the same time we must prevent the war from escalating into a war between Russia and NATO,” he said.

Hoping to allay concerns about sending the weapons, Scholz asked the German public to trust his government to ensure there was no increased risk to their country and to co-ordinate steps with allies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked Scholz for Germany’s “important and timely decisions,” saying they were a “green light for partners to supply similar weapons”.

Germany aims to quickly establish two battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine and initially provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its own inventory.

A battalion normally comprises three or four companies with about 14 tanks each. 

Poland has also pledged 14 tanks and the United Kingdom has promised 14 of its own Challengers.

Germany’s tanks would probably be ready in three or four months, Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said.

The Russian embassy to Berlin accused Germany of making an “extremely dangerous decision” and abandoning its “historical responsibility to Russia” arising from Nazi crimes in World War II. 

The embassy said the tank deliveries would escalate the conflict to a new level and lead to “permanent escalation”.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials confirmed on Wednesday the country’s troops had withdrawn from Soledar in eastern Ukraine, almost two weeks after Russian troops said they had captured the small salt-mining town.

“In order to preserve the lives of service personnel, the Defence Forces withdrew from Soledar,” military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi was quoted as saying by state broadcaster Suspilne.

His remarks were the first Ukrainian confirmation that Russian forces have captured Soledar, which is in the Donetsk region.

“(Our forces) fulfilled their main task: not allowing the enemy to systematically break through in the Donetsk direction,” Cherevatyi was quoted as saying.

He said Ukraine’s defensive line at Soledar had prevented Russian forces breaking through to its rear lines.

Cherevatyi said Ukrainian forces had at no point been surrounded in Soledar during fierce fighting, and that no Ukrainian prisoners of war had been taken.

Soledar, which had a pre-war population of 10,000, became the epicentre of Russia’s assault for several weeks in the beginning of January, and fierce battles raged for control.

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