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Poland pushes for tanks for Kyiv

by The Associated Press | January 24, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
FILE - A Leopard 2 tank is pictured during a demonstration event held for the media by the German Bundeswehr in Munster near Hannover, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Poland will apply to the German government for permission to supply the German-made Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- Poland said Monday it would ask Berlin for permission to send German-built Leopard tanks to Ukraine as its Western allies move to supply Kyiv with more powerful military hardware to thwart Russia's invasion.

Germany has hesitated to approve sending tanks to Ukraine. But Polish officials took heart from remarks Sunday by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock that Berlin wouldn't seek to stop Poland from providing Leopard 2 battle tanks.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki didn't specify when the request to Germany will be made. He said Poland is building a coalition of nations ready to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

Poland needs the consent of Germany, which builds the tanks, to send them to a non-NATO country.

But even if Germany doesn't grant permission, Warsaw will make its own decisions, Morawiecki said at a news conference.

Ukraine says tanks -- and especially the Leopards -- are vital to its war effort. Both sides' battlefield positions are mostly deadlocked during winter, with new ground offensives expected in the spring. Russia's forces are much larger than Ukraine's, so Kyiv wants to gain an advantage in weaponry and fuller backing from its Western allies.

Poland has become a leading advocate in the European Union for giving military aid to help Ukraine prevail 11 months after the Kremlin's forces invaded. Germany's hesitation has drawn criticism, particularly from Poland and the Baltic countries on NATO's eastern flank that feel especially threatened by Russia.

Although Berlin has provided substantial aid, it has been criticized for dragging its feet on providing military hardware.

German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said it was important for Germany not to take a "reckless" step it might regret, adding that a decision will not be rushed.

"These are hard questions of life and death," he added. "We have to ask what this means for the defense of our own country."

Pressed on how long a decision on sending tanks might take, Hebestreit said: "I assume that it's not a question of months now."

Previously, Polish officials have indicated Finland and Denmark were ready to join Warsaw in sending Leopards to Ukraine. The United Kingdom has pledged to send Challenger tanks. French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday he asked his defense minister to "work on" the possibility of sending Leclerc battle tanks to Ukraine.

But Macron said a decision hinged on three criteria that have also weighed on the minds of other Western leaders: that sharing the equipment doesn't lead to an escalation of the conflict; that it would provide efficient and workable help when training time is taken into account; and that it wouldn't weaken his own military.

Morawiecki said that while Poland intends to ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, the request is "a secondary matter" as a group of EU countries look at how to help Kyiv.

"Naturally, these are not easy talks, but we will be taking efforts to break this barrier of unwillingness in various countries," he said.

Baerbock, Germany's top diplomat, told French television channel LCI on Sunday that Poland hasn't formally asked for Berlin's approval to share some of its Leopards, but added "if we were asked, we would not stand in the way."

Poland wants to send a company of Leopard tanks, which means 14 of them, but they would barely make an impression in a war that involves thousands of tanks. If other countries contribute, Warsaw reckons, the tank detachment could grow to a brigade size.

photo FILE -German soldiers stand at a Leopard tank during a visit of Governor Hendrick Wuest at the army base Field Marshal Rommel Barracks in Augustdorf, Germany, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. Poland will apply to the German government for permission to supply the German-made Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
photo FILE --A Leopard 2 tank is pictured during a demonstration event held for the media by the German Bundeswehr in Munster near Hannover, Germany, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011. Poland will apply to the German government for permission to supply the German-made Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
photo A Patriot system launcher is unveiled at a press event hosted by Air Defense Missile Group 24 ahead of the transfer of the first two of three committed Patriot air defense missile squadrons from Germany to Poland in Gnoien, Germany, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (Bernd Wuestneck/dpa via AP)
photo Air Defense Missile Group 24 begins moving the first two of three committed Patriot air defense missile squadrons from Germany to Poland in Gnoien, Germany, Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. The air defense systems are to move into operational positions in the vicinity of the town of Zamosc in southeastern Poland. (Bernd Wüstneck/dpa via AP)
photo In this photo taken from video and released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, a Russian Army self-propelled howitzer Akatsiya fires toward Ukrainian troops at an undisclosed location. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
photo In this photo taken from video and released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, Russian Army T-90M tanks roll to their position at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
photo Protestors hold signs and wave Ukrainian flags during a demonstration in support of Ukraine outside of an EU foreign ministers meeting at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

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