Ukrainian soldiers were given a crash course on operating the Leopard 2 tanks before 18 of them were handed over
The Ukrainian military has received 18 Leopard 2 main battle tanks from Germany, Der Spiegel reported on Monday. Kiev has already taken delivery of Leopards from Poland, but Western analysts say it will need several times more that amount in order to make an impact on the battlefield.
The tanks left Germany last week and were handed over at an undisclosed location along Ukraine's borders, the magazine reported, citing anonymous sources. While the exact location of the handover was not made clear, most Western-supplied weapons to date have entered Ukraine via Poland.
After months of public hesitation, the German government announced in January that it would send the Leopards to Ukraine, and would authorize other European countries to donate the Germany-made tanks from their own armories. In the time since, Ukrainian tankers have received around two months of training on the Leopards, with German instructors giving them a condensed version of the Bundeswehr's normal training course.
Poland has already donated 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, after giving their crews an even shorter training period of five weeks. Meanwhile, the US intends to supply Kiev's forces with M1 Abrams tanks by the end of 2023, while Britain is currently training Ukrainian soldiers to operate its Challenger 2 battle tanks, ahead of their planned delivery in the coming weeks.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky stated in January that his military needs as many as 500 Western-built tanks to turn back Russia's forces, an assessment that Western analysts concur with. Franz-Stefan Gady, a researcher at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote in January that Ukraine must field "at least one armored brigade consisting of up to 100 Leopard 2s to have a significant impact on the conflict."
"Even were Ukraine to succeed in fielding an entire armored brigade or more," Gady continued, "Moscow's forces would be likely to adapt, eventually diminishing its power."
According to Der Spiegel, the Ukrainians were given "an extensive package of weapons and spare parts" along with the tanks. Berlin has identified the complex maintenance of the Leopard 2 as a potential challenge for Ukraine, and is reportedly seeking to set up a maintenance hub in a neighboring country. Poland volunteered earlier this month to build such a facility.
Moscow has said that the Leopards "will burn" in Ukraine like the rest of Kiev's Western-supplied weapons. The West's continued efforts to arm Ukraine will only prolong the conflict, without changing its outcome, the Kremlin has stated.