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BERLIN – The German government said on Tuesday it would supply air defense tanks to Ukraine after being subjected to strong pressure at home and abroad to abandon its reluctance to supply heavy weapons to Kiev.
The decision to supply the “Cheetah” tanks, which come from German defense industry warehouses, was made at a closed government meeting on Monday, Defense Secretary Christine Lambrecht said. told reporters at a Ukraine security conference at a US air base in Ramstein, Germany. There was no immediate information on how many tanks Germany would supply.
The announcement marks a remarkable shift for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who as recently as last week still ruled out sending German tanks to Ukraine, insisting that it would make more sense for Eastern NATO countries to give Kiev old Soviet-era tanks, as the Ukrainian already knows. military. Scholz promised that Germany would then send these countries replacement German tanks.
He also mentioned the risk of nuclear war as a reason for his reluctance to send German tanks directly into the war zone.
In recent days, Scholz had come under increasing pressure to change course, both from international allies and from his governing coalition, which consists of his Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the Liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). The Greens have been pushing for weeks to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine, and the FDP also spoke in favor of sending such weapons at a party meeting over the weekend.
To add further pressure, the main opposition party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), plans to put forward a parliamentary proposal this week that requires Germany to supply Ukraine with tanks. The movement could have drawn support from Greens and FDP legislators and led to a critical defeat for Scholz in parliament, undermining confidence in his government.
Moreover, allies such as the United States, France and the Netherlands have already promised heavier weapons to Ukraine, meaning that Germany risked becoming more and more isolated with its resistance.
Lambrecht, who is from Scholz’s SPD party, acknowledged in Ramstein, “there has also been criticism of Germany in recent weeks in this context,” but argued that the “figures” of total German arms supplies to Ukraine, which include anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, “speak another language.”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters at the same press conference that Western allies “can do more … to help Ukraine defend itself,” and praised Kyiv’s persistent opposition.
Cheetah, a tank with two 35-millimeter anti-aircraft guns that can be upgraded with “Stinger” anti-aircraft missiles, was phased out of the German army more than 10 years ago. But many of these tanks are still parked at the German defense company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, which has signaled interest in renovating the vehicles and selling them to Ukraine.
A spokesman for the German Ministry of Economy, which is responsible for approving arms exports, had no immediate answer as to whether approving cheetah sales from industrial depots meant the government would also approve other industrial requests to sell German tanks to Ukraine.
According to the German daily Welt, the German defense company Rheinmetall has requested permission to export 88 Leopard 1A5 heavy tanks and 100 Marder light tanks to Ukraine, while Krauss-Maffei Wegmann also wants to supply 100 artillery units of the Panzerhaubitze 2000 model.
A government spokesman told reporters on Monday that a decision on such export requests would be made “in a timely manner.”