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Poland will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. What does it mean?

(CNN) — In what would be the first shipment of such weapons to Ukraine since the start of the war, the Polish government announced Wednesday that it will provide German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukrainian forces fighting Russia after the invasion of 2022.

“A company of Leopard combat vehicles will be delivered to Ukraine as part of international coalition building,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said during a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Lviv.

“This decision has already been taken in Poland,” Duda said in the official statement.

Zelensky, who has been calling for tanks for months, welcomed the announcement, saying he could finally say “a very important word for our defense, for our state, for our army, for the common defense of Ukraine and all of Europe: the word ‘tanks'”.

A Polish Army Leopard 2 tank takes part in the NATO Noble Jump military exercises of the VJTF forces on June 18, 2015 in Zagan, Poland. (Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Ukraine, which has a fleet of Soviet-designed and in some cases made tanks, has asked Western countries, and especially NATO members, to send modern tanks. With these weapons, it hopes to be able to replace losses, face Russian attacks and also to be able to mount counteroffensives, such as those carried out in Kherson and Kharkiv at the end of 2022, operations for which these weapon systems are more suitable.

But although the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and many other countries have sent numerous weapons systems, including anti-tank missiles, self-propelled artillery and anti-aircraft batteries, they have so far refused to provide tanks, weapons of an offensive nature.

In recent weeks, the United States and Germany have even announced the shipment of armored vehicles superficially similar to tanks but which, in design, weaponry, and armor, serve other roles on the battlefield. These are the Bradley and Marder infantry fighting vehicles, respectively.

The Leopard 2, armed with a 120mm gun and protected by advanced armor concentrated at the front, is a tank designed and manufactured in Germany by the Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann company. Although it entered service in 1979, its latest versions — the Leopard 2 A7 — are still considered top-of-the-line for their firepower, mobility, armor, and systems, and are capable of taking on Russia’s most advanced tanks.

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While its older variants –such as the Leopard 2 A4– remain relatively competitive in certain scenarios, even more so if they receive modernizations.

Poland has a large fleet of Leopard 2 A4 and A5 tanks, which were undergoing modernization, according to the Polish Armed Forces website. However, in recent times Warsaw seems to have also opted to upgrade its forces with the purchase of US M1 Abrams and South Korean K2 tanks.

It is unknown which models Poland will deliver to Ukraine, if the operation is completed.

Although Poland has the vehicles and is willing to cede them to Ukraine. it will have to go through red tape first, as any re-export of German-made weapons must be approved by the government in Berlin.

Given that Berlin has already approved the shipment of Marder infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, and has refused to provide its own Leopard 1 or Leopard 2, it remains to be seen, however, whether that approval will be achieved.

With reporting by Antonia Mortensen, Kevin Liptak, Brad Lendon, Yoonjung Seo, and Joseph Ataman.

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