Following talks at last weekend’s Ramstein Summit, German defense officials agreed to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine as of Wednesday, according to a report from The Guardian. The recent conference, which brought together the U.S. and other allies to negotiate a supportive strategy against Russia’s war of aggression, ended in disagreement over whether Berlin should sanction the transfer of their tanks between Poland and Ukraine. Though entangled in a complicated reckoning with its Nazi history, Germany has bowed to the persistence of international leaders and organized protests across Berlin, sending the message that to withhold support from a nation under brutal attack would perpetuate the mistakes of history.
The agreement marks the first instance since World War II that German tanks will be used on a European battlefield, signaling a change in the sea of loyalties and a renewed determination across the allied forces to fortify Ukraine’s defence infrastructure before the spring, when both sides are anticipated to break their winter standstill.
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, called upon Berlin and allies to reaffirm their commitments to providing weaponry and aid in a recent post made to Telegram. “We need tanks – not 10-20, but several hundred,” Yermak wrote. “Our goal is (restoring) the borders of 1991 and punishing the enemy, who will pay for their crimes.” From where Ukraine stands, the Leopard tanks are a key acquisition in the bid to defeat an offensive Russia; as TIME Magazine reports, Leopards are among the most advanced modern battle tanks today (compared with much of the Soviet-era weaponry the opponent military uses), and are readily available across Europe to be delivered to the frontlines. President Zelenskyy’s speech from the Ramstein Air Base likewise declared that there would be “no alternative” to requesting tanks from Germany and negotiating further military involvement.
Amid a growing consensus of requests, Polish officials were heartened to hear on Sunday that Germany wouldn’t plan to thwart any effort to provide these tanks – although public debate has ensued over whether this concession to Ukraine was advisable for the long-term. Jan Claas Behrends, a scholar of European history at the Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History, tells The Guardian that the dispute is mired in a larger generational divide over the role of German involvement in international war. While younger Germans rush Berlin’s streets to advocate for swift military action, brandishing signs that proclaim “Free The Leopards Now!”, older detractors and loyalists to the Social Democrat and Green parties have preached caution ahead of any short-sighted rationale that could heighten the threat of nuclear escalation from Putin and betray Germany’s long-standing commitments to nonviolence.
These factions within Germany are nuanced, fraught with decades of tumultuous political history that may demand more than a refusal to act in consort with Ukraine to fully ameliorate – especially when the seeds of violence have already been sown through the current landscape of international foreign policy. As Pablo Aguiar wisely observed for the International Catalan Institute for Peace, “What a paradox: We are an admirable civilization when it comes to our ability to build instruments with which to inflict harm on one another, yet we are still in our infancy when it comes to furthering mechanisms that guarantee a nonviolent management of conflicts.”
Nearly a year since Putin’s annexation of Ukrainian territories and the occupation of Kyiv, Ukraine has waged a surprisingly successful defensive war, in part by appealing to a global network of supporters that have amassed crucial political and material resources – including military aid – to scale with that of the enemy. Germany’s decision to follow suit with the United States and other prominent actors backing Ukraine may well carry unintended consequences. Still, a majority of public officials and Germans polled have shown support for taking this risk in global solidarity against a violent regime. “In that country there’s war, people lost everything, their work, their homes… They have no heating, nor any other way (to stay warm),” one Berlin protestor told Anadolu News. “I don’t understand why politicians had to discuss things for so long. The people there, they need help.”
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