BERLIN — The German government said Tuesday it will deliver anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine after facing strong pressure at home and abroad to abandon its reluctance to supply heavy weapons to Kyiv.
The decision to provide the “Gepard” tanks, which come from German defense industry stocks, was made at a closed-door government meeting on Monday, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told reporters at a Ukraine security conference at a U.S. airbase in Ramstein, Germany. There was no immediate information on how many tanks Germany would deliver.
The announcement marks a notable shift for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who as recently as last week was still ruling out sending German tanks to Ukraine, insisting it would make more sense for Eastern NATO countries to give Kyiv old Soviet-era tanks already familiar to the Ukrainian military. Scholz promised Germany would then send those countries replacement German tanks.
He also cited the risk of nuclear war as a reason for his hesitance to directly ship German tanks into the war zone.
Scholz had come under growing pressure in recent days to change course, both from international allies and from within his governing coalition, which is comprised of his Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). The Greens have been pushing for weeks to deliver heavy weaponry to Ukraine and the FDP also spoke out in favor of sending such weapons at a party convention over the weekend.
Adding further pressure, the main opposition party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is planning to submit a parliamentary motion this week demanding Germany supply Ukraine with tanks. The move could have drawn support from Green and FDP lawmakers and led to a critical defeat for Scholz in parliament, undermining trust in his government.
Moreover, allies like the U.S., France and the Netherlands have already promised heavier weapons to Ukraine, meaning Germany risked becoming increasingly isolated with its resistance.
Speaking in Ramstein, Lambrecht, who is from Scholz’s SPD party, acknowledged, “there has also been criticism of Germany in recent weeks in this context,” but argued that “the numbers” of overall German weapon deliveries to Ukraine, which include anti-tank and anti-air missiles, “speak a different language.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters at the same press conference that Western allies “can do more … to help Ukraine defend itself,” lauding Kyiv’s sustained resistance.
The Gepard, a tank with two 35-millimeter anti-air cannons that can be upgraded with “Stinger” anti-aircraft missiles, was phased out from the German army more than 10 years ago. But many of these tanks are still parked at German defense company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, which has signaled interest in refurbishing the vehicles and selling them to Ukraine.
A spokesperson for the German Economy Ministry, which is in charge of approving arms exports, had no immediate reply on whether the approval of Gepard sales from industry stocks meant the government would also approve other industry requests to sell German tanks to Ukraine.
According to the German daily Welt, German defense company Rheinmetall has requested authorization to export 88 Leopard 1A5 heavy battle tanks as well as 100 Marder light tanks to Ukraine, while Krauss-Maffei Wegmann also wants to deliver 100 artillery units of the model Panzerhaubitze 2000.
A government spokesperson told reporters on Monday that a decision on such export requests would be made “in a timely manner.”