Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The German government has announced its first decision to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine, following weeks of deliberations and ambiguity, and facing significant pressure both within the ruling coalition and the EU.
German Defence Minister Christina Lambrecht announced on Tuesday that Germany will be delivering its aged “Gepard” armoured anti-air vehicles to Ukraine. Speaking at the start of a US-hosted defence conference on Ukraine, Lambrecht confirmed that the Government had made that decision on Monday.
The Gepard tanks were developed during the 1960s and 1970s, but have since been substantially upgraded with more modern electronics. The tracked vehicles are armed with two 35-millimetre anti-air cannons and equipped with a search radar, a tracking radar and a laser rangefinder.
The weapon system was phased out of the Bundeswehr in 2010s, replaced with the more modern Wiesel 2 Ozelot, but the German Defence Ministry believes it could deliver up to 50 such vehicles, currently mothballed.
The vehicles have an effective range of more than 5 kilometres, and its radar can help track and find targets for man-portable air-defence systems such as Stingers, which many western countries have already donated to Ukraine.
The most recent German government decision marks a nearly complete shift from its original stance of not providing weapons to Kyiv. As Russia had massed more than 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine in January, Berlin offered to send only 5,000 helmets, and has prevented Estonia from exporting old German howitzers to Ukraine.
Since the invasion, Germany has changed its position and delivered anti-air and anti-tank systems to Ukraine, but has stopped short of delivering heavy weapon systems. This, too, appears to have changed as Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced last week that Germany would compensate some of its allies who deliver Soviet-era weapons to Kyiv, such as Slovenia’s donation of Yugoslav-made T-72 tank variants. Berlin would provide Slovenia with its Marder armoured vehicles in return.
The Tuesday announcement marked a further step, in which Germany would for the first time deliver heavy weapons directly to Ukraine, and could also signal a possibility of German defence company Rheinmetall to donate Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, vehicles which served as the basis for the Gepard platform.