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.