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Could NATO Send Ukraine the Leopard 2 Tank to Fight Russia?

NATO Tank Leopard 2
NATO Leopard Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Leopard 2 Tank to Ukraine? Even as the Ukrainian military has launched a major counteroffensive, and pushed back Russian forces in the south and eastern territories, the government in Kyiv continues to rely on western support. Since Russia launched its unprovoked and unwarranted invasion in February, Ukrainian officials have called upon the United States and NATO to send more modern tanks.

Along with advanced combat aircraft, the deployment of western-made tanks, including the German-designed Leopard 2 – considered one of the very best in the world today – has been a non-starter. President Joe Biden has nixed the sending of such main battle tanks (MBTs) arguing that it could escalate the conflict, and even draw NATO into a war with Russia. German officials have expressed similar concerns in regard to sending the tanks.

However, some lawmakers in the European Union are now voicing support to roll out the tanks to Ukraine. This week, European Parliament speaker Roberta Metsola told French news agency AFP that Ukraine needs “weapons that they can fight with in order to regain their territory, and that means, for example, Leopard 2 tanks that several member states have.”

The center-right Maltese official said she would relay the message to EU leaders at a summit to be held in Prague on Friday. In April, Metsola became the first head of an EU institution to visit Kyiv, and has called for countries willing to provide the tank to Ukraine to be reimbursed from an EU fund, the European Peace Facility. This fund has already released 2.5 billion euros ($2.5 billion) for Ukraine military purchases.

“I think these are discussions we need to have now, especially because we are seeing Russia is escalating but also on the flipside when we are seeing Ukraine successfully pushing the Russians out,” Metsola explained.

The Leopard 2 – the Best of the Best

The third-generation Leopard 2 was originally developed by Krauss-Maffei in the 1970s for the West German army. It entered service in 1979, succeeding the earlier Leopard 1 – but its use on the battlefield has actually been fairly limited, even as it has been exported to a number of countries including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey. NATO members Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania, and Slovakia have each expressed interest in adopting the Leopard 2, as has Tunisia.

Approximately 3,600 have been produced, and the Leopard 2 has been steadily upgraded. The MBT is armed with a 120 mm smoothbore cannon and is powered by a V-12 twin-turbo diesel engine.

The Leopard 2 is widely seen as significantly more advanced than the T-72 MBTs Russia and Ukraine have largely deployed to the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. Experts have suggested that even 40 German-made 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. Until recently, it was more likely one could only see a T-62 in a museum or historic event, but Russia has been forced to “scrape the bottom of the barrel” to keep its forces equipped with tanks.

This is not the first time it looked like the German-made tanks could head to Ukraine. In June, 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.

Despite the concerns that sending the Leopard 2s could drag NATO into open conflict with Russia, another issue is that NATO’s efforts to arm Ukraine have depleted stockpiles of ordnance and even equipment. In April, Poland reportedly sent at least 240 Soviet-era tanks – enough for two tank brigades – to help Kyiv.

A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Zibi

    October 6, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    These tanks are too heavy for the load-bearing capacity of the local bridges and the autumn and spring mudslides. There are no real paved roads there in places. There is only mud 1-1.2 meters deep. The US should consider handing over older versions of Abrams to the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria, and in return, these countries should hand over to Ukraine the T72 tanks, the operation and maintenance of which the Ukrainians know very well.

  2. mawendt

    October 6, 2022 at 10:05 pm

    Excellent reason given by Zibi. The terrain really doesn’t support it.

    More importantly, Tanks are an offensive tool, designed to project force outside a defensive position. The question is “what is the benefit of a Tier-1 armor after Russia is defeated?”. A hot piece of armor like the Leopard 2, Abrams, LeClerc or Challenger makes Ukraine a threat to Russia as opposed to a fortress against future invasions.

    Ukraine is romping Russia with (mostly) Russian equipment (although high tech Western artillery is wreaking support havoc that was Ukraine’s weakness before). Having former Soviet bloc nations donate T72s and trade up to a Western tank is really the best idea. Regardless of the equipment, it is the morale, leadership, and dedication to win that is the main strength of the Ukrainian armed forces. They are willing to die to win; Russian soldiers are not. Yet Tanks and artilley and missile and helicopters help.

    It’s easy to say ‘give Ukraine the weapons to defeat Russia’ – but it looks like they already have that. With that mindset, give Ukraine a half dozen nuclear tipped missiles to deter Russia from any future aggression. Why do half measures? Ukraine gave up nukes on a Russian promise and Western guarantee of sovereignty, and this is how it ended up.

    Nopes. Ukraine is cranking with the Tier-2 equipment. There is no reason to arm them beyond what they are maturely capable of managing. Too many superior weapons may encourage attacks on Russian homeland that will cause an over-reaction by Russia. The parity keeps a slow progression towards the internationally accepted recovery of Ukrainian territory without damaging or threatening Russian homeland infrastructure.

    It’s unfortunate, but I think in the end the world would much rather see those international boundaries reinstated, and a new Russian government paying reparations rebuilding Ukraine rather than Ukraine damaging Russia psyche and having multiple generations of issues.

  3. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    October 7, 2022 at 1:06 pm

    If reports are even half accurate, the Ukrainians are taking possession of literally hundreds of RF tanks and artillery and apparently enjoying great success with them.
    With Putin endlessly threatening NATO with nukes, European NATO countries best keep their frontline weapons – they may need them.

  4. Froike

    October 9, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Scooter, I partially agree with you. However, The US has Thousands of older Bradleys and Abrams in storage. The US would not miss them in the event of a direct conflict with China/Russia…
    The problem is logistical support: replacement parts, skilled mechanics, fuel, Ammo..etc.
    Enjoy you posts Bro…all the best.

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