How the US and Germany agreed to transfer tanks to Ukraine

Prime Minister Olaf Scholz firmly maintained the position of “not going it alone”, forcing the US to agree with Germany to transfer tanks to Ukraine.

In a speech from the White House on January 25, US President Joe Biden praised Prime Minister Olaf Scholz after announcing that the US and Germany would jointly send main battle tanks to Ukraine.

“Germany has really stepped up and the German chancellor is an incredibly powerful voice for solidarity and for the efforts we’re continuing to make,” Biden said.

A day earlier in Berlin, Chancellor Scholz was equally enthusiastic, saying that relations with Washington were much better than they were “for a long time” and that he had “real harmony” with Mr. Biden. .

The planned delivery of the US-made M1 Abrams and German Leopard tanks met expectations in Kiev and is seen as a new turning point in the transatlantic response to the Russian war.

But to achieve this breakthrough, Germany and the United States went through intense negotiations, changes in policy and a leap of trust between Washington and Berlien, which is seen as the mainstay of the two countries. Western Union. It also shows that of all the conversations about world leadership, Europe remains heavily dependent on the United States as its guarantor of security.

“We have Western policies, but not European policies. Everyone is looking to Washington,” said Liana Fix, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations in the US.

US President Joe Biden (left) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Brussels, Belgium in March 2022.  Photo: AP.

US President Joe Biden (left) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Brussels, Belgium in March 2022. Photo: AP.

Tensions stem from a policy that Mr. Scholz persistently pursue. He affirmed that he would not send Leopard tanks to Ukraine if the US did not deliver Abrams tanks to Kiev.

The January 17 phone call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Scholz both exposed the rift between the two sides and set the stage for the agreement reached this week. President Biden in the phone call explained that the US was hesitant to ship Abrams tanks to Ukraine due to logistical and technical difficulties. The German chancellor countered by stating that the US and Germany are “always together” in supplying weapons to Kiev, implying that Berlin will only deliver main battle tanks when Washington does so.

German officials say this approach has precedent. “Whenever we decide to send new weapons to Ukraine, we make the announcement at the same time as our closest allies, first of all, the US,” one official said.

The US president pledged to respond to the matter with Mr. Scholz. Later that day, he met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, telling them he wanted to find a solution.

“It’s important to President Biden to maintain solidarity and support for Ukraine,” a White House official said.

What followed was a series of negotiations chaired by Mr. Sullivan, mainly with his German counterpart Jens Plotner, to find a way to get Berlin to agree to the transfer of tanks to Ukraine. The White House official said Sullivan was trying to make sure Europe’s contribution was as large as possible.

On the public front, the situation continues to be tense. During a meeting with a group of US lawmakers in Davos on January 18, the German chancellor reiterated his position that the US needs to transfer its tanks to Ukraine.

“He was absolutely clear,” said Seth Moulton, a Democrat who attended the meeting, and thought it was a perfectly reasonable position.

Germany chose this approach in the belief that by jointly sending tanks to Ukraine, Western allies would reduce the risk of Russian retaliation. “That means no single country has to face the criticism and threats from Russia that we are used to seeing,” said German Social Democratic Party leader Lars Klingbeil.

But on January 20, when US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited the country’s Ramstein airbase in western Germany, the failure to reach an agreement increased pressure on both sides. The meeting in Ramstein was intended to show the unity of the West and hope that Germany would make an announcement to transfer Leopard tanks. However, the meeting did not bring about a breakthrough, disappointing Ukraine and many other countries, and prompting Washington to reconsider the transfer of Abrams tanks.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill grew increasingly nervous.

“The defense minister went to Ramstein and nothing changed because Germany didn’t change its position. When he came back some of us said ‘move those damn tanks’.” Moulton said.

America's Abrams tank drills in Georgia in 2021. Photo: US Army.

America’s Abrams tank drills in Georgia in 2021. Photo: US Army.

Until the end of January 23, US officials still publicly downplayed the possibility of sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine. But this is an important day of negotiations.

Mr. Sullivan and Plotner spoke three times, and the US National Security Advisor, along with Defense Secretary Austin and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley met with President Biden to hear instructions for negotiations. final.

Secretary Austin also made a new proposal to Biden to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine to address the challenges. On January 24, the US President approved the agreement.

Mr. Scholz’s approach is controversial even in Germany, where some in his three-party coalition worry about possible damage to US-German relations. By maintaining the view that the U.S. handover of Abrams was a prerequisite, Scholz “successfully pressured President Biden,” according to an official in Berlin.

President Biden on January 25 denied any suggestion that he was pressured by the German chancellor. “Germany doesn’t force me to change my mind. We want to make sure we stand together,” he said.

The agreement showed Mr. Biden’s approach to Mr. Scholz, often described as “strategic patience” with Berlin. The United States has avoided any pressure or public criticism of Germany over its reluctance to take certain steps, either sanctions against Russia or military aid to Ukraine.

Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany’s former ambassador to Washington, said Mr Biden’s shift meant Mr Scholz could see it as a success for the German public, who are debating whether Germany was wise to send tanks to Ukraine. or not.

However, he said the lengthy deliberation process further damaged Germany’s image. “Many see Mr. Scholz’s strategic delay approach as a burden,” Ischinger said.

“It was very difficult for Germany to come to this decision and we need to honor that,” said Heather Conley, president of the German Marshall Fund of America. “However, the repetitive process of hesitating, deliberating, and keeping everyone waiting will tire allies and undermine their unity.”

German-made Leopard 2A4 tank in Polish service in 2020. Photo: Milmag.

German-made Leopard 2A4 tank in Polish service in 2020. Photo: Milmag.

Officials in Berlin say the frustration of some allies is not justified, because Germany remains the second-largest supplier of military assistance to Ukraine, after the United States.

In addition, Berlin believes that many of Germany’s allies do not understand their predicament. “If German tanks appeared on the battlefield, Russian President Vladimir Putin might say ‘look, that’s what I said before. NATO is interfering in this war’. It is the story of RT reported. concerns a lot in Latin America and Europe. We need to be careful with this,” an official said.

Samuel Charap, senior political scientist at RAND Corp in the US, said that a joint announcement of the supply of tanks, hailed by Scholz’s allies in Berlin as a major success of German diplomacy, was “the end result. best outcome” can be hoped for in the current situation.

“Maintaining an alliance is not easy. Washington has shown Berlin that it is willing to do something it should not do for the sake of the relationship. That’s what it takes to maintain the alliance.” Charap said.

Thanh Tam (Theo FT)

Leave a Comment