‘Free the Leopards!’ Campaign aims to ’embarrass’ Germany into sending tanks to Ukraine
A campaign launched by two Finnish politicians aims to ‘shame’ Germany into providing Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
So far, no Western country has provided main battle tanks to help the Ukrainian military — although France announced this week that so-called light tanks, the AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles, will be supplied for the first time.
The US said it would consider sending similar Bradley fighting vehicles as well.
But Anders Adlercreutz of the Swedish People’s Party and Atte Harjanne of the Greens argue that if the smaller countries with Leopard tanks give a little each, then Europe’s biggest Leopard user, Germany, will have no excuse not to provide the tanks — which the Ukrainians themselves have asked for.
“If we can give a political signal of greater willingness to commit resources that would negate the argument against providing tanks to Ukraine, and instead be confident that it would make a significant difference,” he said. Harjanne, who is part of the defense committee of the Finnish parliament and is the chairman of his party’s parliamentary group.
So the pair are trying to embarrass Germany with this initiative? Harjanne laughs. “Well, it’s more like constructive pressure,” he tells Euronews, diplomatically.
“The threshold for sending main battle tanks is getting lower and lower and when you have the political will to do it then you have to take pragmatic steps to bring training and maintenance capacity together with a project like this.”
And the fledgling campaign is having some success so far.
It has prompted positive reactions from fellow lawmakers in Sweden, Slovakia and Denmark and is likely to be debated when Finland’s parliament returns to work next week: although no country has yet committed any equipment.
What are the Leopard 2 main battle tanks?
The Leopard 2 main battle tank was developed for the West German Army and entered service in the late 1970s.
Since then, around 3,600 have been produced and are currently in use by militaries across Europe, including Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway; Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands; as well as the Austrian, Polish, Czech and Slovak armies.
Germany still has more than 250 Leopard 2s in service.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly ruled out giving any of the Bundeswehr Leopards to Ukraine, while Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has previously said Germany must keep the Leopards to meet NATO obligations without specified what they were.
In September, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said there was “not a single rational argument” why Germany could not supply Leopard tanks.
“What does Berlin have to fear from Kiev?” Kuleba asked.
Finnish politicians think that a “brigade level” of 90-100 tanks would have a big impact on the battlefield and estimate that it would take them several months to get Ukrainian tank and maintenance crews up to speed.
Simple training processes can be introduced to speed things up, with an acknowledgment that the level of theoretical and practical skills needed during peacetime is a luxury compared to the time constraints of wartime.
“But so far we’ve seen that the Ukrainians have been able to get and use Western equipment quite quickly, whether it’s artillery or anti-aircraft weapons,” Harjanne said.
Time constraints and political will
The arrival of Leopard 2 tanks on the battlefield would provide Ukrainian forces with a major new offensive capability.
But in addition to the actual tanks, there would need to be engineering crews and spare parts, plenty of ammunition, and a pipeline of replacements for when the first wave of Leopards inevitably starts taking damage that puts them out of commission.
While some countries may be able to provide more Leopards, Finnish politicians note that other countries may provide training facilities for Ukraine’s military.
“In terms of performance, [the Leopard 2] surpasses Soviet-era Russian equipment,” explained Anders Adlercreutz, head of the parliamentary group for the center-right Swedish People’s Party.
“During the Cold War, Western strategy was based on achieving a qualitative advantage over an attacker that was supposed to have a quantitative advantage. In terms of performance, it surpasses Soviet-era Russian equipment and is one of the most widely used Western tanks. , ” he added.
Adlercreutz said that with a joint European effort, there is a “decisive way” to enable Ukraine to maintain momentum in the war.
“The risk that an increase in the level of support would lead to an escalation should not be overstated. The nature of the support itself does not differ significantly from the fact that the support would also include Western tanks,” Adlercreutz said.
“We also need to be careful not to analyze our support based on a Russian narrative, but instead be guided by how best to protect our interests and our values.”