Countries With Germany's Leopard Tanks Can Train Ukrainian Tank Crews, Defense Minister Says

Germany has still not made a decision to allow countries operating its Leopard 2 main battle tanks to transfer them to Kyiv, but they can train Ukrainian tank crews, Berlin’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, said on Tuesday, January 24.

In a press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Pistorius said: "There is no new information here. The situation has not changed. We are preparing our decision, which will come very soon…We are encouraging our partners if they want to, and if they have the possibility, to start training [Ukrainians] on these Leopard vehicles if they wish to do so. We are not stopping anyone.

“We are looking into the matter, what the current status is, regarding our Leopard tanks…We need to look at the potential we have, that industry has, the stocks that they have, and of course, compatibility [among the vehicles],” he said.

Germany has come under fire from countries like Poland for not allowing Leopard 2 operators to give their tanks to Ukraine.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said recently that Poland would consider transferring the tanks without Germany’s assent.

Pistorius, who was appointed defense minister to take over from Christine Lambrecht on January 19, recently indicated that he could visit Ukraine in the coming weeks. Credit: NATOpress via Storyful

Video transcript



Nice to having you here again, just a couple of days after having met in Ramstein. I'm very glad to see you because we had a lot of issues to discuss.


- Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to have you here today so soon. We saw each other before. We have met before. I've been a member of the NATO parliamentary assembly for almost 10 years now, so we have met before, but it was nice for you to come here and to discuss some questions, and to get to know each other at a personal level.

But apart from that, of course, we had an agenda that we needed to go through. A lot of topics to discuss, and we did that today. It is about collective defense, deterrence and defense, the Eastern flank, and of course, our support for Ukraine.

All these are important subjects, and we can state that 11 months ago, Putin started his unprovoked, brutal, and imperialistic war of aggression against Ukraine. And we agree that, of course, NATO must not be one of the warring parties. That must stay as it is, but we must support Ukraine, and that's what we do.

And we must show our unity against the outside world, our unity in our dealings with Ukraine, because that is the attacked party, and we support them. And also, we must show our unity with regard to Russia, the aggressor in this case, and we must show our determination. That is very important. Germany is one of the leading countries here.

Apart from humanitarian support, we have provided military support, and we are in the top group of supporters for Ukraine. We have provided-- we have prepared a spring package for 2023 comprising infantry fighting vehicles, bridge layers, the Patriot systems, and other equipment comprising 1.1 billion euros, and in total, we have provided 3.3, so we are-- apart from the United States and the United Kingdom-- we are one of the top supporters, and that is often forgotten in the public discussion.

And we have received a lot of support from my colleagues, Lloyd Austin and Sebastian [INAUDIBLE] for example. We are now halfway between the two meetings, the summit meetings in Madrid and Vilnius, which will be in June. And we are going to continue to implement the turning point that was announced by our chancellor. We must meet the capability targets and live up to our promises.

I'm looking forward to cooperating with you on that matter, and in three weeks time, we will meet at the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels. Now let me make one more remark because there will be questions about that anyway.

Of course, the discussion about the Leopard tanks. I can tell you there is no new information here. The situation has not changed, and we are preparing our decision, which will come very soon.

As I pointed out in Ramstein, we are encouraging our partners-- if they want to and if they have the possibility-- to start training on these Leopard vehicles if they wish to do so. We're not stopping anyone, but as I said, we are preparing our decision.

Then secondly, as I announced last Friday, we are looking into the matter what the current status is regarding our Leopard tanks. And of course, it's not just a matter of counting our tanks. We know how many we have.

It's a lot more complicated than that. We need to look at the potential we have, that industry has, the stocks that they have, and of course, compatibility. That is often forgotten. That is an important matter because the different types of Leopard vehicles must be compatible, and it's important to look into the matter what can be combined with what.

Also, when you think of matters such as logistic support, repair, and supplies, and we're preparing that to be in a position to act fast when the situation arises. Secondly, it is often said that there is a lack of unity amongst the Allies or that Germany is isolated, but that is not the case.

And I called upon everyone, and that was made clear at our meeting in Ramstein, not to create that impression that there's this division through the Alliance. There are some partners that are still evaluating their decision and others want to go a bit faster, but we are not ununited, so this is a process that is ongoing. So ladies and gentlemen, let me underline that NATO stands together, and we're going to cooperate.

JENS STOLTENBERG: OK, Minister Pistorius. [INAUDIBLE] Boris Thank you so much for the warm welcome, and thank you for the very good meeting, and congratulations on your appointment.

You have been a member of the NATO parliamentary assembly for many, many years, so I know that you are a staunch supporter of alliance, and I look very much forward to working with you. You are taking up your position at the time when we, again, see a full-fledged war in Europe, creating the greatest danger to our security in generations.

That is why German leadership is more important than ever. The bravery of the Ukrainian forces has inspired the whole world. At the same time, we should not underestimate Russia.

President Putin has proved that he is willing to pay a high price for this unjust war. He has mobilized over 200,000 troops and is acquiring new weapons from other authoritarian regimes, such as Iran and North Korea.

But most importantly, we have no indication that President Putin has changed his goals. He wants to control Ukraine and is planning new offensives. The only way to lasting peace is to make it clear to Putin that he will not win on the battlefield.

Therefore, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems so that Ukrainian forces are able to repel the Russian forces, not only to survive, but to win, take back territory, and prevail as a sovereign, independent state in Europe. Germany is-- among the Allies-- providing the most military, financial, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

This includes air defense systems such as Gepard and IRIS-T, artillery and ammunition. You have recently also announced the delivery of advanced Patriot systems and modular infantry fighting vehicles. Weapons from Germany are saving lives in Ukraine every day, protecting homes, schools, and hospitals from Russian missile strikes.

Other NATO allies are also stepping up. The United States announced in Ramstein on Friday another substantial package of 2.5 billion US dollars, including many Bradley and Stryker infantry fighting vehicles, and more long range fires, and modern air defense systems.

And France, the United Kingdom, and other allies have announced that they will deliver tanks. I welcome these announcements. At this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster.

I therefore welcome our discussion today. We discuss the issue of battle tanks. Consultations among our allies will continue, and I'm confident that we will have a solution soon. Germany plays a key role in our alliance. The site vendor announced by Chancellor Scholz is historic.

With a special 100 billion euro defense fund for fifth generation aircraft, new helicopters, ships, tanks, and ammunition. You are already one of the biggest troop contributors to NATO's missions and operations. You lead NATO forces in Lithuania, your jets patrols allies skies, and 15,000 German troops are committed to NATO's rapid response forces.

This significantly contributes to strengthen our deterrence and defense. So Minister Pistorius, thank you again for our excellent meeting and for very fruitful discussions. I look forward to welcoming you to our defense ministerial meeting in Brussels next month. Thank you.

- We have time for two more questions. Mr. Hoffman from the [INAUDIBLE] first.


- Translation [INAUDIBLE].

- Yes. Secretary General, could you tell us how decisive you believe is the question where the main battle tanks can be provided to Ukraine? How decisive for the outcome of the war? Is there the danger of Ukraine being run over by Russian forces?

And then a question regarding the current review that is going on in the Bundeswehr. Has it been possible to identify whether the Bundeswehr has main battle tanks to provide?

JENS STOLTENBERG: Battle tanks are, of course, important, both to be able to repel Russian new offensives, but also for Ukraine to be able to retake territory, to win and to prevail as a sovereign independent nation in Europe.

At the same time, we need to understand that allies have all the decided to deliver both battle tanks, but also to deliver more armored vehicles, including infantry fighting vehicles. So what we need is heavier, more modern equipment. That's exactly what allies have already announced to deliver.

Germany has announced to deliver mortar infantry fighting vehicles. The United States has decided to deliver many Bradley and Strykers, and also other types of armored vehicles. Canada, other allies, are also stepping up with different types of armored vehicles and infantry fighting vehicles.

Then some allies have already delivered battle tanks, including some of our Eastern allies. France has announced that they will deliver a light battle tank, and then the United Kingdom has announced that they will deliver modern main battle tank the Challenger 2.

So if you put all of this together, the German announcements, the announcement from other allies, a wide range of different types of armor to Ukraine, this is a huge additional contribution to the combat capabilities of Ukraine. And this is urgent. This is important because Russia is preparing for new offensives.

We need to enable the Ukrainians soon or fast to be able to repel those offensives, and also enable them to retake, liberate their own territory. Then we had a good discussion today on the issue of German battle tanks, and I'm confident that there will be a solution soon, and I welcome also the clear message from the minister that all the Allies-- all the NATO allies-- that have Leopard battle tanks are, of course free to identify those Leopard battle tanks that may be available for Ukraine to make them ready.

But also to start training of Ukrainian crews for those battle tanks because after the decision has been taken on delivery of battle tanks, it will take some time to identify, to make ready, and to train Ukrainian crews. And I welcome the clear message from Minister Pistorius that allies with Leopard battle tanks are actually urged to start that work.



DAMIEN MCGUINNESS: Damien McGuinness BBC. Minister Pistorius, you've said many times that this row over German battle tanks is overshadowing Germany's undoubtedly large contribution to the war effort in Ukraine.

If that's the case, why is Chancellor Scholz being so ineffective in his communication style? And does that not frustrate you? Mr. Stoltenberg, how frustrated are you by this row over German battle tanks and the risk that will create some-- at least the impression of a lack of Western unity?



- Well, it is not really my place to criticize the Chancellor's choice of words and his style of communication. I think there's nothing to be criticized here. He has a reserved and calm way, and he does what any leader should do, namely to bring the different positions together.

JENS STOLTENBERG: The most important thing is that [INAUDIBLE] and also minister Pistorius, they are absolutely right when they point out the significant contributions Germany has delivered and continue to deliver to Ukraine.

That's actually substance that matters and makes a difference on the battlefield every day. The fact that Germany is one of the Allies that are providing the most support when it comes to artillery, ammunition, advanced air defense systems, the Gepards, the IRIS-T, and also now heavy infantry fighting vehicles, the mortars.

These are important armored capabilities that significantly strengthen the combat capability of Ukraine, and therefore, I agree with the chancellor and also the minister that actually, we need to remember and recognize these significant German contributions. Then other allies are providing similar capabilities air defenses, armored vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, and some are also providing battle tanks.

Then we have a discussion on the Leopards. And I think that's a kind of natural part of an evolving policy when it comes to exactly what kind of capabilities we should deliver to Ukraine, and I think it's important also to protect this space for confidential consultations among allies.

That's part of being an alliance of 30 allies, and actually, we're also working with a lot of partners as we did in Ramstein to consult, to assess, and then to make decisions in close consultation. And also, I welcome, of course, the message from the minister that there will be a conclusion soon because time matters, and big announcements were made last week, and there will be new announcements as we move forward as the alliance.



BORIS PISTORIUS: See you in Brussels. [INAUDIBLE].