Germany will supply its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, it announced on Wednesday, overcoming misgivings about sending heavy weaponry that Kyiv sees as crucial to defeat the Russian invasion but Moscow cast as a needless provocation.
Pressure has been building for weeks on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government to send the tanks and allow other NATO allies to do the same ahead of expected spring offensives by both sides that could help turn the tide of the war.
Scholz's government had stalled on the decision, wary of moves that could prompt Russia to escalate or suck the NATO alliance into becoming party to the conflict.
Germany's decision paves the way for other countries such as Poland, Spain and Norway to supply their stocks of Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
"This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally," Scholz said in a statement.
The goal was to quickly establish two battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, the statement said, adding Germany would in a first step provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks from military stocks.
Training of Ukrainian troops in Germany will begin soon, and Germany will also provide logistics and ammunition, it said.
Germany will issue the appropriate transfer permits to partner countries that want to quickly deliver Leopard 2 tanks from their stocks to Ukraine, it said.
Drawing responses from global leaders
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday that Germany and other NATO allies' decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was the "right decision".
"The right decision by NATO Allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower," Sunak said on Twitter.
"This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about the unwillingness of the Federal Republic of Germany to be drawn into it."Ambassador Sergei Nechayev
"Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace."
Poland's prime minister thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday for his decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
"Thank you @Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz," Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Twitter. "The decision to send Leopards to Ukraine is a big step towards stopping Russia."
Russian response to German action
The Russian embassy in Germany said on Wednesday that Berlin's decision to approve the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine meant it was abandoning its "historical responsibility to Russia" arising from Nazi crimes in World War Two.
In a statement, the embassy said that the decision would escalate the conflict to a new level.
"This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about the unwillingness of the Federal Republic of Germany to be drawn into it," Ambassador Sergei Nechayev said.