WASHINGTON — German defense leaders on Thursday pledged additional weapons and equipment to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia, announcing plans to deliver two multiple-launch rocket systems, known as MARS II, with 200 missiles and 50 Dingo armored personnel carriers.
In addition, the government is close to finalizing a swap with Greece that would see Athens send 40 of its Soviet-made BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine and in return get 40 Marder IFVs from former Bundeswehr stocks now kept by industry, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said in Berlin.
The announcements come as the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under pressure to justify its reluctance to give Kyiv battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles — Leopards and Marders — made in Germany. Critics argue the prudence is misplaced because it fails to match the government’s rhetoric that Europe’s freedom is being defended in Ukraine.
Speeches this week by Lambrecht and the Bundeswehr’s top uniformed official, Gen. Eberhard Zorn, indicate defense leaders are still wary of Russia as a formidable foe, despite recent Ukrainian battlefield wins in the northeast of the country. By that logic, Moscow launching yet another war closer to Germany is a scenario for which Berlin should keep its panzer powder dry.
Lambrecht said the armed forces must keep the Leopard 2 battle tanks, for example, to uphold homeland defense pledges and commitments made to NATO and its eastern members, like Poland and the Baltic states.
That argument fails to account for the reluctance to send older equipment, though, namely Leopard 1 tanks and Marder fighting vehicles, hoarded by manufacturers Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann since the Bundeswehr’s massive shrinkage after the end of the Cold War. Rheinmetall requested an export permission to Ukraine for 88 Leopard 1 tanks and 100 Marders, Reuters reported, but the case has been pending since the spring.
Experts argue Ukrainian soldiers could learn fighting with those weapons relatively quickly because the low-tech design is reminiscent of the Soviet-style tanks with which they are familiar.
Lambrecht on Monday praised the tech-savvy of Ukrainian experts, who were able connect the software baselines of German and Dutch howitzers previously donated to Ukraine, the Panzerhaubitze 2000, in a surprisingly short time.
German officials believe those howitzers, plus the 20-some Gepard air-defense tanks, have contributed to Ukrainian wins since Kyiv launched a counter-offensive aimed at liberating Russian-held territory earlier this month.
But Zorn, the Bundeswehr chief of staff, cautioned against viewing the trajectory of the war and Russia’s remaining strength through “western glasses.”
“We haven’t seen a counteroffensive along the entire length of the front,” he said.
No western country has sent Ukraine modern battle tanks, though officials say there’s no formal policy keeping individual nations from doing so. Advocates argue there is a window of opportunity now in which tanks could help Ukrainians push Russia out of the country further.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.