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Joint effort aims to get some Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine ‘within months’

A Danish tank crew assigned to the Dragoon Regiment, 1st Armored Battalion, 1st Danish Tank Squadron, back their Leopard 2A5 Main Battle Tank into a concealed position while serving on an opposition force with tankers of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, June 11, 2015 during an exercise at the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in Poland.    (Sgt. Brandon Anderson, 13th Public Affairs Detachment)
By Erika Solomon New York Times

Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced a joint initiative Tuesday to send around 100 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, some of which could arrive “within a few months.”

That is a far shorter timeline than the more advanced tanks Ukraine’s Western allies have pledged as they seek to bolster the embattled nation before an expected new Russian offensive.

The new plan, announced as Germany’s defense minister met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Ukraine, comes in addition to Germany’s agreement last month to send 14 of its more modern Leopard 2 tanks and a U.S. pledge to send 31 of its own main battle tanks, Abrams M1s.

Germany announced that it had approved reexport licenses for up to 178 of the Leopard 1 tanks, but that the final number “depends on the required repair work.” Because the tanks are German-made, Berlin has to approve the transfer of the vehicles sold to other countries for reexport to a third party.

From the German side, the Leopard 1 tanks would not come from the military but from German weapons manufacturers. On Tuesday, the CEO of one such manufacturer, Rheinmetall, told a news conference that it expected to supply Ukraine with 20 to 25 Leopard 1s this year, and 88 more next year, Reuters reported.

With the addition of Denmark and the Netherlands to the Leopard 1 export plan, more of the battle tanks could arrive in Ukraine far sooner than any of the more advanced German and U.S. tanks, which could take many months.

“Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands are providing refurbished Leopard 1 A5 from industrial stocks; the first ones being delivered within a few months,” a joint statement from the three nations said. “In doing so, we are guided by the needs of Ukraine. Our initiative includes training on the Leopard 1 A5 as well as a spare parts and ammunition package.”

The three countries said they would welcome other governments to join with them and that they had received interest from Belgium.

Germany had for weeks resisted sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, despite heavy pressure from its European allies, and only agreed to the plan after Washington said it would send some of its own M1 Abrams tanks. Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany has been wary of being seen as contributing to escalation against Russia by a NATO ally.

At least some of the Leopard 1 tanks will require more refurbishment and modernization work, and there are also concerns that ammunition supplies could run short, even though they are a NATO-standard size.

Some of the ammunition needed is produced in Switzerland, whose strict neutrality policy has hindered sales for use in Ukraine. Brazil also manufactures rounds used by the Leopard 1 tank. But because of its close ties to Russia, Brazil has declined to give Germany the ammunition it produces.

Unlike the Leopard 1 – the first main battle tank built for Germany’s armed forces after World War II – the more modern Leopard 2 is one of the world’s leading battle tanks. It has been used by the German army for decades and by the militaries of more than a dozen other European nations, as well as by the armies of countries like Canada and Indonesia. The Leopard 2 has been used in conflicts in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Syria.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.