Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine has largely united and unified NATO, but there have still been some recent “misunderstandings,” and the latest involves German-built main battle tanks (MBTs).
It was just a week ago that Madrid had pledged to send upwards of 40 of its surplus Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine, pending approval from Berlin as the tanks were originally produced in West Germany. Instead of that approval, Germany blocked the transfer and Spain has been forced to apologize to the office of the German chancellor.
Spanish Support for Leopard 2A4
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had originally offered the plan to supply the German-made tanks to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his Kyiv visit on April 21.
Madrid had also offered to provide Ukrainian troops with the necessary training to operate the tanks, which was to take place in Latvia where the Spanish Army currently has 500 soldiers deployed as part of NATO’s Enhanced Advanced Presence operation – while additional training would take place in Spain.
Spain acquired a total of 108 Leopard 2 main battle tanks from Germany in the 1990s, and around 40 of them have since been deemed “surplus,” and as a result have for the past decade or so been left gathering dust in an army logistics base in Zaragoza.
Leopard 2A4 Tanks – Germany Blocks the Deal
What looked like a done deal could now be dead in the water instead.
At issue is the fact that the German-made tanks aren’t exactly in “tip-top” condition, and would require repair and potentially even parts that Germany would need to provide and sign off on, according to defense agreements between Spain and Germany. While Germany has pledged to send armored anti-aircraft platforms to Ukraine, it appears that Berlin is taking a more cautious approach regarding the Leopard tanks as this would be the first time that a NATO member has supplied what is seen as “modern” MBT.
The tanks are far more advanced than the T-72s Russia and Ukraine have largely deployed to the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. Even 40 tanks could give the Ukrainians a major advantage, especially as Russia has recently been forced to employ older T-62 MBTs to bolster its numbers.
German officials have even suggested that Russia could interpret the move as a deliberate escalation of the conflict, and might accuse NATO of acting as a co-belligerent to Kyiv.
NATO’s Tank Numbers
Another issue is that NATO’s efforts to arm Ukraine have depleted stockpiles of ordnance and even equipment. In April, Poland has reportedly sent at least 240 Soviet-era tanks – enough for two tank brigades – to help Kyiv.
“This is a significant number, I wouldn’t want to go into detail,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki confirmed in an interview with the Polsat TV channel in late April.
There are also concerns that NATO’s forces have been diminished, and that the alliance shouldn’t be sending additional hardware that it can’t easily replace.
Given those factors, at least for now, it seems that those Spanish Leopards won’t be taking a bite out of the Russian bear.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.