First Leopard 2 Tanks Arrive In Ukraine

The first four of 14 Leopard 2 tanks promised by Poland are now in Ukraine, but donations from other countries have yet to arrive.

byHoward Altman|
Leopards in Ukraine
The Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland photo
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After months of negotiations, global political pressure, and constant urging by Kyiv, Ukraine's foreign-provided tank force is finally beginning to materialize. The first four of 14 Leopard 2 tanks promised by Poland are now in Ukraine, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced Friday during a visit to Kyiv on the first anniversary of Russia's all-out invasion.

"Poland, as the country that was the first to successfully build this coalition of Leopards, today also wants, as the first European country, to give you @ZelenskyyUa the first 4 Leopards," Marawiecki said on Twitter Friday.

He later posed with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Ukrainian troops in front of the tanks in Ukraine.

“Together with PMs @Denys_Shmyhal and @MorawieckiM met new beasties in our Ukrainian military zoo - 4 Leopard2A4!,” Reznikov tweeted Friday. “We are looking forward to hosting more of them. Food and leisure will be provided.”

Reznikov even climbed into one of the tanks.

Morawiecki also announced that Poland would hand over 60 PT-91 Twardy tanks "within a few days," according to the Polish PAP news agency.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his gratitude at a joint press conference.

"Poland was with us even before the start of the full-scale war, was with us every minute of this year and, I am sure, will be with us until our victory," he said. "Our joint victory! ... I am thankful to Mateusz Morawiecki and all our Polish brothers for understanding the situation and needs of Ukraine."

The four Leopard 2 tanks are the first of scores that were promised to Ukraine after months of negotiations and pressure on Germany, which holds the export licenses to some 2,000 Leopard 2s of various variants.

The Leopard logjam was broken last month after the governments of Germany and the United States announced they will deliver Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine respectively. Possibly even more significant was Berlin's announcement that it will also issue licenses allowing the transfer of other Leopard 2s from partner countries that also want to deliver them to Ukraine.

You can read more about that in our coverage here.

Poland’s delivery of the four tanks comes as other nations have issued recent statements promising, or increasing previous commitments, to send Ukraine Leopard 2 tanks.

Germany on Friday promised to increase the number of Leopard 2 tanks it will provide Ukraine from 14 to 18. That increase, together with other donations, equals a Ukrainian tank battalion, the German Defense Ministry (MoD) tweeted Friday. A Ukrainian tank battalion consists of 31 tanks.

The German MoD, however, did not offer a delivery timeline.

On Friday, Sweden said it will send Ukraine about 10 of the tanks.

"We have decided to deliver Swedish Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine," Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said at a news conference marking the first anniversary of the war on Friday, Barrons reported.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in Kyiv Thursday that his government is considering increasing the number of Leopard tanks it will ship to Ukraine to 10 from six,” Bloomberg reported

Earlier this month, the first of four Canadian Leopard 2A4 tanks donated to Ukraine were shipped via a Royal Canadian Air Force C-17 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. With multiple countries donating or potentially donating Leopard 2s, the type is set to become the backbone of Ukraine's modernized tank force.

And the U.K., which was the first country to offer Ukraine more modern, Western tanks when it promised 14 Challenger 2 tanks, is now training Ukrainian troops on them. But they won’t arrive in Ukraine for several months.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, Germany announced it was also signing off on providing Ukraine with Cold War-era Leopard 1 tanks it is no longer using via the Rheinmetall company, Politico reported.

However, as we noted in our story about that deal, the issue of securing ammunition for the older tank’s 105mm rifled main gun could be difficult to resolve.

Despite all the promises, however, the tanks aren’t being provided to Ukraine in the numbers or at the speed desired.

Poland has been assembling a coalition of countries to send the older A4 version of the Leopard 2 to Ukraine, while Germany is working with allies to supply the modern A6 version, Bloomberg noted.

However, Bloomberg reported, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius indicated earlier this month that western allies are struggling to put together two full battalions of those tanks to send to Ukraine as promised.

As for the 31 Abrams tanks promised by the U.S., they might not arrive in Ukraine this year at all.

A U.S. Army M1A2 Abrams tank assigned to the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, moves to their fighting positions during a multinational field exercise during Defender Europe 2022, Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland, May 15, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Andrew Greenwood)

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told reporters Thursday that the delivery timelines could push into well into 2024 at the earliest.

“I think there are options that are less than two years, less than a year-and-a-half,” she said.

Ukraine, which has long wanted Western tanks, is eyeing a spring offensive to push Russia out of the country.

In December, Valery Zaluzhny, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Army, told The Economist what was needed to restore Ukraine’s territory to its borders before Russia’s full-on invasion. 

“I know that I can beat this enemy. But I need resources," Zaluzhny said back in December. "I need 300 tanks, 600-700 IFVs [Infantry Fighting Vehicles], 500 Howitzers. Then, I think it is completely realistic to get to the lines of February 23rd.”

These promised tanks represent an upgrade from the Soviet-era armor Ukraine has been using. But whether they get there in time and in sufficient numbers to help with the spring offensive, remains to be seen.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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