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What the Leopard 2 tank could mean for Ukraine’s fight against Russia

Two tanks after firing (flames are seen)

Following intense pressure from its allies, Germany appears to be inching toward approving deliveries of high-tech Leopard 2 main battle tanks that Ukraine and its biggest Western backers hope will boost Kyiv’s fight against Russian invaders.

Over the weekend, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin would not get in the way if Poland — arguably Ukraine’s most vocal supporter among European Union neighbours — wants to ship Leopard 2 tanks from its arsenal across the border into Ukraine. And Germany is not ruling out supplying such tanks to Ukraine itself, cautioning however that the implications of such a step need to be carefully weighed.

Here’s a look at what those tanks might mean for Ukraine’s defence against Russian forces.

What is the Leopard 2?

Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the manufacturer of the Leopard 2, touts it as “the world’s leading battle tank,” that for nearly a half-century has combined aspects of firepower, defence, speed and manoeuvrability, making it adaptable to many types of combat situations.

The 50-tonne tank requires a crew of four and has a range of about 500 kilometres, with top speeds of about 68 kilometres per hour. Its earliest version first came into service in 1979 and there are now four main variants. Its main weapon is a 120-mm smooth bore gun, and it has a fully-digital fire-control system.

NATO enhanced Forward Presence troops in Leopard 2 tanks fire during a military drill in Latvia on Sept. 29, 2022. Experts say such tanks could allow Ukraine to go on the offensive in the 11-month-old conflict with Russia. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

How many could be sent to Ukraine?

One big appeal of the German-made tanks is their sheer number: More than 2,000 have been deployed in over a dozen European countries and Canada. Overall, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann says more than 3,500 units have been supplied to 19 countries.

According to a recent analysis by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based global think tank, some 350 Leopard 2s — in different versions — have been sent to Greece, and Poland has about 250 of varying types. Finland has 200 in operation or in storage.

For Ukraine’s war against Russia, “it is believed that for the Leopard 2 tanks to have any significant effect on the fighting, around 100 tanks would be required,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies analysts wrote.

Ukraine’s defence minister wants 300 tanks, and some European Union leaders support him on that.


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