The photo is intended to spread optimism, while in eastern Ukraine Ukrainian soldiers at the front are increasingly being harassed by Russian forces: Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Resnikov this week published a photo with his German counterpart Boris Pistorius together with a tank model of the German Leopard 2 after their talks in Kyiv.
On the sidelines of his visit to Kyiv, Pistorius confirmed that Germany intends to hand over the first of a total of 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in March. And he assures Kyiv that Germany will also deliver around 100 tanks of the older Leopard 1 variant from armaments industry stocks to the Ukrainian army.
However, both tank types can only be used very differently at the front. Compared to the more modern Leopard 2, the original variant is only weakly armored. “The first generation of the Leopard was built at a time when full protection against armor-piercing multiple shells was technically not possible,” Ralf Raths, director of the German Tank Museum in the small northern German town of Munster, told DW. “The designers of the Leopard 1 tank therefore made a conscious decision to make the vehicle lighter by using thinner armor and instead installing the most powerful engine possible in order to make the tank as fast and maneuverable as possible.”
Leopard 1 to protect Ukrainian soldiers in battle
Experts assume that the older Leopard could help Ukraine in its defensive struggle in conjunction with the armored personnel carriers promised at the beginning of the year, such as the German Marder or the American Bradley. At the moment, Ukrainian soldiers are still often fighting without armored vehicles on the front lines in the east and south of their country.
US President Joe Biden had promised 60 of these armored personnel carriers at the beginning of the year. Ten days ago, the first left the US port of Charleston in the state of North Carolina. This was reported by the “Transportation Command”, the logisticians of the US armed forces.
Unlike its successor, the Leopard 1 would have difficulty in a direct tank battle against Russian units in eastern Ukraine, says Raths. You need the Leopard 2 for that.
Initially 14 Leopard 2 tanks by the end of March
As a first step, Germany wants to support Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2A6 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks. Overall, Germany itself has 328 Leopard main battle tanks – experts disagree on how many of them could be used immediately.
The aim of the western states, it is said, is to hand over enough Leopards for two tank battalions to the Ukraine as quickly as possible. In the Bundeswehr, a battle tank battalion includes 44 Leopards. For this, other European partners would have to provide tanks. The federal government now wants to issue permits for tank deliveries from other countries. Such a reservation of approval is customary internationally for arms deals and is stipulated in the contracts.
“Far superior to the Russian models”
The reaction from Moscow shows the importance of the leopards. Moscow called the delivery of the Leopard tank and other weapon systems a “direct involvement” in the conflict. Exactly the reading that Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) always wanted to avoid. In the meantime, CDU defense expert Roderich Kiesewetter welcomed the government’s decision in an interview with DW: “Western models protect the soldiers much better and thus increase combat morale. They are also technically far superior to the Soviet models. This means that large-scale operations can be realistic again. This can free larger areas from Russian occupation and prevent war crimes.”
Military expert hopes for clear improvement
For military expert Marina Miron from London’s King’s College, however, it remains to be seen what exactly the value of the Leopard tanks is for Ukraine. She told DW: “We don’t yet know which versions of the Leopard tanks Ukraine will actually get, but of course there is great hope that they will be a clear improvement on what Ukraine currently has.”
The NATO delivery to Ukraine that is now being considered involves almost 90 tanks. Finland, which is not yet a NATO member, has also announced that it can supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine. And there, in the war zone, quite a few military experts are hoping for a decisive turnaround in the war with Russia, especially with the recapture of areas in the east of the country.
The Leopard 2 and its predecessor, the Leopard 1, are Germany’s military export hits. The Leopard 2 main battle tank has been in series production since 1978 and has been improved many times since then. Due to the great export success of the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann tank, there are many different versions, each of which has been adapted to the special requirements of the buyer. The predecessor model Leopard 1 was also sold very often and is still in service in many armies around the world. Its purpose is to defend against enemy armored formations.
60 tons heavy, more than 60 kilometers per hour fast
The Leopard 2 has a 120 mm cannon, with which it can attack stationary or moving targets while driving. With additional equipment, the tank can cross waters up to four meters deep. The 1500 HP strong and more than 60 km/h fast tank is a heavyweight. Its more than 60 tons are always a problem for bridges. According to the Canadian and Danish soldiers involved, the Leopard has proven its worth in operations in Afghanistan, above all because of its high level of protection against attacks.
The leopard and its delivery to the attacked Ukraine – for many German politicians this could be a turning point in the war. SPD defense expert Nils Schmid told DW: “We are convinced that this spring delivery will represent a decisive advantage for Ukraine. Because the combat effectiveness of the tank is high, significantly higher than that of any weapon that we have previously delivered .
Along with strengthening air defenses, this will allow Ukraine to tip the military balance in its favor – and thus force Russian President Putin into serious negotiations on regaining Ukrainian territorial integrity.”
Cooperation: Eugen Theise