German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to give Poland approval as soon as Wednesday to re-export its German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.
Berlin wants to make a decision on the issue quickly to quell growing frustration among allies, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the decision is private.
Poland formally requested the authorization earlier Tuesday and the German government said it would respond with the necessary urgency. German law requires approval for the re-export of its military equipment, meaning the hundreds of Leopard tanks in Europe can only be sent to Ukraine with Berlin’s consent.
Pressure has been building on Scholz to allow allies to share their stocks of Leopards. Poland has been calling on Germany for weeks to drop the cautious approach and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday he expected “prompt” approval.
Scholz declined to comment when asked if there would be a decision on Wednesday when he left a meeting of his SPD parliamentary group.
As Ukraine and its allies prepare for a potential escalation in fighting in the spring, the debate over sending battle tanks to back Kyiv’s military and potentially retake territory has become a flashpoint among NATO allies. US and European officials have bridled at Scholz’s slow decision-making, saying the German leader should be more assertive, following through his promised “Zeitenwende,” or historic turning point on security.
Scholz has insisted that Germany should not act alone in sending new categories of heavy weapons that could provoke an escalation with Moscow. He’s placed a premium on moving in lockstep with the US and NATO.
“We never go alone,” Scholz said in an interview last week with Bloomberg.
Germany will begin taking inventory of how many Leopards are available so Berlin can move swiftly if it decides to ship them, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday.
Until recently, German officials always made clear in private conversations that they would only send or allow others to deliver Leopards to Ukraine if the US provides its M1 Abrams main battle tank. But Berlin has since changed course and now says there is no link between sending Leopards with the US equivalent.
The US is leaning toward sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine as part of a broader international package that would include German Leopards, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited US officials. An announcement from Washington could come this week.