Poland sending tanks to Ukraine


President Andrzej Duda of Poland said this weekend that he intends to send Polish tanks to Ukraine.

“At the moment we will hand over to Ukraine our Leopard tanks from our own units, at the same time, of course modernizing our own army and taking care of our own security,” he explained. “We obviously understand that this is our duty as Polish authorities.”

On Twitter he described Poland as a security stabilizer on NATO’s eastern flank. And he added “we cannot allow the resurgence of empires and spheres of influence.

The tanks in question are Polish in the sense that Poland owns them but German in the sense that Germany built them. So Germany’s hesitation to send its own tanks has been a factor in the decision. But yesterday, Germany’s foreign minister indicated that, if asked, they would not attempt to stop Poland from sending them.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told French TV channel LCI that Poland has not formally asked for Berlin’s approval to share some of its German-made Leopards but added “if we were asked, we would not stand in the way.”

German officials “know how important these tanks are” and “this is why we are discussing this now with our partners,” Baerbock said in interview clips posted by LCI.

Last Friday, there was a meeting of western nations who are offering military support to Ukraine at Rammstein air force base in Germany. At that meeting, Germany indicated it still hadn’t decided what to do about sending tanks. The NY Times has a story up today about why Germany is so hesitant. The answer has less to do with current politics and more to do with Germany’s view of itself post World War II:

Germany built its postwar economy on cheap Russian energy and supposedly apolitical trade with Central and Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and China, believing that trade produces change, somehow moderating authoritarian regimes.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has challenged all of that. It has been as much a psychological shock to Germany as a political one, undercutting many of its assumptions about Russia; its president, Vladimir V. Putin; and the role of Germany in a Europe suddenly at war.

Nowhere is the disorientation more apparent than in Germany’s reluctance, for now, to send Ukraine its excellent main battle tank, the Leopard 2, or to allow other countries to do so. The stance has risked isolating Germany and exasperating its allies. Most important, the Ukrainians say, Germany’s hesitance threatens to hamper their ability to hold off or turn around an anticipated Russian offensive this spring.

While Germans overwhelmingly support Ukraine in its fight, the hesitation on sending tanks reflects the deep ambivalence in a nation with a catastrophic history of aggression during World War II and that remains profoundly divided about being a military leader and risking a direct confrontation with Russia. Opinion polls show that half of Germans do not want to send tanks…

Those guilty memories are about a war against the Soviet Union. But even after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germans associated their guilt with Russia, as the successor state, not with other new post-Soviet nations, like Ukraine and Belarus, where the Nazis killed even more people, said Claudia Major of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “We did so much harm to the Soviet Union we can’t do this again, we say, but we equalize it with Russia and forget that Ukraine took it the worst.”

In other words, more than 80 years after Germany attempted to take over the world as part of the Axis, it’s very hesitant to become the leading nation in a proxy war in the same part of the world where the Nazis once used tanks to kill people. But that was a very long time ago and by shutting of the gas prior to winter, Russia involved Germany in a way that is making the country reconsider some things, including a long-standing commitment to doing away with nuclear power and a reliance on Russian energy in general.

Poland’s Prime Minister was more blunt in a statement made yesterday:

On Sunday, Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, criticized Germany’s failure to supply the hardware to Ukraine.

“Germany’s attitude is unacceptable. It has been almost a year since the war began. Innocent people are dying every day,” Morawiecki said. “Russian bombs are wreaking havoc in Ukrainian cities. Civilian targets are being attacked, women and children are being murdered.”

He went on: “I try to weigh my words but I’ll say it bluntly: Ukraine and Europe will win this war – with or without Germany.”

Now that Germany has indicated it would say yes if asked, today the the Prime Minister of Poland indicated a request for permission will be made but that the tanks will be sent regardless of the answer:

“We’ll ask for permission, but it’s a secondary issue,” the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, told reporters, according to the Polish news agency PAP.

“Even if we ultimately don’t receive permission, then, despite that, we’d transfer our tanks to Ukraine together with others within a small coalition, even if Germany is not in the coalition,” Mr. Morawiecki added.

Russia has been promising a new offensive in the east once the weather warms up a bit and Ukraine says it needs the tanks in order to stop Russia from regaining territory. So look for this to happen very quickly, maybe even before the end of this month.

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