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Leopard 2 tanks: what are they and why does Ukraine want them?

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What is the Leopard 2?

The Leopard 2 is a German-manufactured main battle tank with a range of about 500km (311 miles). It first came into service in 1979 and has a top speed of 68km/h (42mph). Equipped with a 120mm smooth bore gun as its main armament, it is also armed with two coaxial light machine guns.

As well as being used by the German military, Leopard 2 has been in wide service in Europe, with more than a dozen countries using the tank, as well as a number of other countries including Canada. The tanks have been deployed in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Syria (by Turkey) where several were lost to anti-tank missiles.

Leopard 2 graphic

Why does Ukraine want them?

Ukraine has said it has an urgent need for heavier armour in its war against Russia’s invasion. Kyiv has limited availability of tanks, most of them from the Soviet or post-Soviet era.

As well as emphasising its belief that Moscow intends to launch a significant new offensive in the coming months, Kyiv and many of its allies believe that the war will end more quickly if Russia is defeated on the battlefield in Ukraine’s own counter-offensives to take back Russian occupied territory.

While Ukraine has won significant victories – in the battle for Kyiv at the beginning of the war as well as in Kharkiv oblast and around Kherson in the south – it is hampered by a shortage of tanks to support its operations and faced by Russian forces increasingly fielding more modern and capable T-90s.

The widespread availability of Leopards – including in neighbouring Poland, which wants to supply them to Ukraine – makes them a good fit for Kyiv.

Ukraine has suggested it needs 300 tanks, while western analysts have suggested that 100 could probably shift the balance of the war.

So what is the problem?

Because the tanks were supplied to countries under export licenses, Germany can veto re-export, although Poland suggested on Thursday it could simply ignore Germany and export its Leopards regardless.

Germany’s own position has been conflicted. It prefers a multilateral approach on arms supply to Ukraine rather than being seen to be moving unilaterally.

Leopard 2 inventories

Although Germany has supplied a large amount of equipment to Ukraine, including armoured cars, it has also been wrestling with its post-second world war tradition of anti-militarism. The supply of main battle tanks had been seen as problematic because of their much more obviously offensive capabilities.

Germany had tried to tie the supply of Leopards to a wider coalition that would supply other tanks, including US Abrams – a tank viewed by experts as being less suitable for the war in Ukraine because of its heavy consumption of fuel.

What is the argument against supplying the tanks?

Opponents believe that the supply of tanks would be an escalation of the involvement of Nato countries in the war, heightening the risk of the war spreading. Ukraine has said it would only use the tanks within its internationally recognised borders, while supporters say that it is Moscow that has continued to escalate the conflict, mobilising ever more troops, targeting civilian infrastructure and making veiled threats of nuclear strikes.

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( With inputs from : www.theguardian.com )

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TheNewsCaravan News Desk

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