Germany approves sending heavy battle tanks to Ukraine, source says

  • Poland asks Germany to supply tanks to Kyiv
  • The United States could drop its opposition to the supply of Abrams tanks
  • Governors of five regions of Ukraine among dismissed officials
  • Kyiv. Zelenskiy’s actions answer public call for justice
  • Ukraine says spring offensive could be decisive

KYIV/BERLIN, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Germany has decided to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to help fight the Russian invasion and allow other countries like Poland to do the same, while the United States could provide Abrams tanks, a source close to the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the German government and the foreign and defense ministries in Berlin declined to comment.

Kyiv has been pleading for months for Western tanks it says it desperately needs to give its forces the firepower and mobility to break through Russian defensive lines and retake occupied territory to the east and south.

Separately on Tuesday, Ukraine sacked more than a dozen senior officials, including the governors of several major battleground provinces, as part of an anti-corruption drive by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government made more critical by the need to keep his Western supporters on his side.

Earlier, Poland said it had officially sent a request to the German government to allow it to send some of its Leopards to Ukraine, bringing Berlin closer to a long-awaited decision on allowing the re-export of the heavy tank from NATO.

And two US officials told Reuters that Washington may drop its opposition to sending some of its Abrams tanks, in a bid to encourage Germany to follow.

While the Abrams is considered less suitable than the Leopard for Ukraine due to its high fuel consumption and difficulty in maintaining, this decision could encourage Germany to supply Leopards.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats are wary of moves that could incentivize Russia to escalate the war and what they see as a risk of the NATO alliance being drawn into the conflict.

German Leopards, deployed by armies across Europe, are widely considered the best option, available in large numbers and easy to deploy and maintain.

The German army chief of staff said sending tanks was a political decision. A senior official said the choice ultimately rests with Scholz and his cabinet.

The front lines of the war, which stretch more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) across eastern and southern Ukraine, have been largely frozen in place for two months despite heavy casualties on both sides. It is widely believed that Russia and Ukraine are planning offensives.

LEADERSHIP PURGE

Ukraine has long struggled to root out high-level corruption, but the campaign has taken on vital importance as the Russian invasion has left Kyiv heavily dependent on Western support and the government pursues a bid to join the European Union.

Among the Ukrainian officials who resigned or were removed from office on Tuesday were the governors of Kyiv, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and adjacent Dnipropetrovsk are now frontline provinces. Kyiv and Sumy were major battlegrounds at the start of the war.

A deputy defense minister, a deputy prosecutor, a deputy head of Zelenskiy’s office and two deputy ministers responsible for regional development were among the others who left.

Some, but not all, had been linked to corruption allegations. Ukraine has a history of corruption and fragile governance, and is under international pressure to show that it can be a reliable steward of billions of dollars in Western aid.

Zelenskiy’s aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, tweeted: “The president sees and hears society. And he is responding directly to a key public demand – justice for all.”

The purge came two days after a deputy infrastructure minister was arrested and accused of embezzling $400,000 from generator purchase contracts – one of the first major corruption scandals to come to light since the beginning of the war 11 months ago.

The Defense Ministry said Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, responsible for troop supply, resigned to maintain confidence after what it said were false accusations of corruption in the media. This followed a newspaper report that the ministry overpaid for troops’ food, which the ministry denied.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy chief of staff in Zelenskiy’s office, announced his own resignation, also without giving a reason. He had helped lead the president’s election campaign in 2019 and had more recently played a role in overseeing regional policy.

As the upheaval unfolded in a series of announcements, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told a cabinet meeting that Ukraine was making progress in its anti-corruption campaign. “This is systemic and consecutive work that Ukraine really needs and which is an integral part of EU integration,” he said.

The European Union, which offered Ukraine candidate member status last June, welcomed this development.

“As a rule, we do not comment on ongoing criminal investigations, but we welcome the fact that the Ukrainian authorities take these matters seriously,” an EU spokeswoman said.

Reporting from Reuters offices, Writing by Peter Graff and Alex Richardson, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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