The debate over providing Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was something of a test for Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, with some German politicians and European leaders arguing that Berlin was not only missing a chance for leadership in Europe, but also hindering its own allies.
In the debate, which spurred a flurry of memes under the hashtag #FreetheLeopards, Mr. Scholz stuck to a policy of waiting to act until Germany’s partners did — in particular, Washington.
That stance stems in part from Germany’s deeply ingrained post-World War II reluctance to be seen as taking a forward stance on military matters. German society has embraced a pacifist foreign policy for decades, and recent surveys show that around half of Germans are wary of sending tanks to Ukraine.
But even some members of Scholz’s three-party coalition government had grown impatient.
“The chancellor made the right decision to provide Leopard 2s to Ukraine,” said Anton Hofreiter, a Green party lawmaker who was one of the fiercest critics of Mr. Scholz within his government. “The next steps must be closely coordinated with our allies and lost trust rebuilt.”
Now, the question turns to how many tanks are available and what the timing of their delivery may be. The government has said that there will be an initial delivery of 14 tanks, but it has not laid out the timing for the move. And while the first battalion will come directly from the German Army, the source of the second battalion was not immediately clear.
Boris Pistorius, Germany’s defense minister, said last week that he had ordered an inquiry into the availability and state of battle tanks in Germany, not just those owned by the military, but also those available commercially. On Wednesday, he said that would include looking into stocks and conditions of the Leopard I, the predecessor of the Leopard 2.
This month, Armin Papperger, the head of German weapon maker Rheinmetall, said that his company would need a year to refurbish the 22 used Leopard 2 tanks it has in stock. Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the builder of the tank, is believed to have some used Leopard 2s in stock, but it is unclear how many, or how long it would take to get them into fighting shape.
Research by the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper suggests that Germany could supply 10 to 15 Leopard tanks by late this year if they were ordered immediately.
Germany could also send more tanks to Ukraine if the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which gave their Soviet-model tanks to Kyiv in exchange for promises to receive Leopard 2s, agreed to have their own deliveries delayed in favor of Ukraine.
It would not be the first time such a plan was made. Last year, Egypt agreed to postpone its receipt of a German-made Iris-T air defense system so that Ukraine could get one first. The system is now protecting Ukrainian airspace. Even Germany has yet to receive one.