Germany to Ukraine: Sorry, no tanks
BERLIN — Germany told Ukraine on Friday: Tanks, but no tanks.
Berlin said that it can’t send Marder tanks from its army stocks to Ukraine because it needs them for its own defense, raising questions over Germany’s broader capability to deliver heavy weaponry to Kyiv in its war against Russia.
POLITICO reported Thursday that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is delaying a final decision on whether to send German tanks to Ukraine, despite pressure from inside his government. Under a plan pushed by Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock from the Greens, Berlin would send up to 100 Marder armored personnel carriers to Ukraine.
German defense company Rheinmetall has signaled it could provide 100 of the tanks, which are currently in the firm’s possession. However, those tanks have been decommissioned and would have to be refurbished first, which would take months. A workaround under consideration had been to instead send identical models from the German army to Ukraine and later replace the army’s tanks with the refurbished ones.
But a defense ministry spokesperson told reporters Friday that the ministry had examined such a possibility but found that it was not feasible.
“After an examination we have found that it simply does not work” because Germany would not be able to fulfill its national defense obligations as well as its obligations in the NATO military alliance if it were to give away tanks from its active military force, the spokesperson said. “We also have a constitutionally enshrined task, namely national defense.”
The rejection by the defense ministry, which is led by Scholz’ Social Democrat party colleague Christine Lambrecht, means it is questionable whether Germany would still be able to deliver Marder tanks, or other heavy military equipment such as the Leopard heavy combat tank or the Gepard air defense tank, which Kyiv has requested from Berlin, to Ukraine.
The defense ministry spokesperson stressed that the rejection of Marder deliveries from German army stocks should be seen separately from a potential purchase of tanks that Ukraine could make directly from German defense companies like Rheinmetall.
However, it is unclear whether those defense companies could immediately offer Kyiv tanks that won’t require time-intensive refurbishment.
Scholz said earlier this week that Germany should first reach a common position with Western allies on delivering tanks before sending them to Ukraine.
The government’s deputy spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann told reporters on Friday that Germany was “constantly looking at how we can support Ukraine.”
“[We are sending] what helps, what is practicable, and most importantly, we consult … closely with our partners in NATO and the European Union,” she said.