POlen and Germany want to help Ukraine together, instead they are arguing about tanks. It’s a barter deal. After Russia’s invasion, Warsaw gave the Ukrainian army about 250 modernized Soviet-built tanks. Poland wanted a replacement for this. Germany offered 20 Leopard 2 main battle tanks in installments, initially one each from April 2023, plus 100 Leopard 1 vintage vehicles and a few Marder infantry fighting vehicles. Too little from a Polish point of view, and that’s why there’s trouble now.
You hear two stories about this. The Polish goes like this: The federal government simply does not want to deliver adequately. She’s just pretending. That’s how it sounds with the Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk. He recently accused the coalition of a “deceptive maneuver”.
The German story is different: Germany would like to, but it can’t because there aren’t enough tanks. This is how Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht from the SPD puts it. Germany wants to help “fill in” the gaps in Poland, she said a few days ago. But that only works to a limited extent. “I can’t do that from the Bundeswehr.”
April 12 of this year gives an answer. Three committee chairmen from the Bundestag stopped in Warsaw on their way to Ukraine: the Liberal Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the Green Anton Hofreiter and the Social Democrat Michael Roth. They had arranged to meet their colleagues from the Polish Sejm for breakfast. Szynkowski vel Sęk joined and the matter became more official.
The subsequent dispute goes back to an idea by traffic light deputies
The conversation didn’t start well. Szynkowski vel Sęk is considered a tough dog and was sharp at the guests: because of Germany’s hesitation in assisting Ukraine, because of the turning point, which is not a turning point. Roth, formerly Minister of State in the Foreign Office, knows Szynkowski vel Sęk well, he objected. Nevertheless, the Germans felt more like poor sinners under cross-examination than guests at friends’.
But then the three made a suggestion that saved the day: Poland, they said, deserved credit for its rapid shipments of tanks to Ukraine. Wouldn’t it be an idea to contact Berlin to get a replacement?
The three of them had worked out the proposal among themselves, and Hofreiter, whom some describe half teasingly, half appreciatively as a green gun nerd, had contributed his knowledge of tanks. From the German point of view, the Poles reacted with pleasant surprise. Apparently what tempted them was the idea that for the many Russian tanks they had donated to Ukraine, they could get at least a few examples of the very latest German model, the Leopard 2 A7. The later dispute with Poland is based on an idea of traffic light deputies.
But then everything went more slowly than hoped, and when the NATO defense ministers were due to meet two weeks later for a Ukraine conference at the American air base in Ramstein, nothing was clear. In the morning signals of impatience arrived in Berlin from Warsaw. The federal government did not take up the proposal. Disappointment in Warsaw.
Only hours later everything looked different again. Defense Minister Lambrecht met her Polish colleague Mariusz Błaszczak in Ramstein. She offered to talk about how to fill the gaps in deliveries to Ukraine. Błaszczak later reported that he wanted to go into the details right away, but Lambrecht thought that the experts should discuss it.