Surprise visit by Pistorius to Ukraine

BDefense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) has arrived in Kyiv for an unannounced visit. According to a spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, Pistorius met the Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov in Kyiv on Tuesday. Reznikov posted a photo on Twitter showing him with Pistorius and a model tank, and wrote: “The ‘first’ Leopard-2 has arrived in Kyiv.”

Gerhard Gnauck

Political correspondent for Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania based in Warsaw.

According to Pistorius, Ukraine is to receive more than 100 older Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks from a group of several European countries. At least three battalions should be equipped with it by the first or second quarter of 2024, he said.

A little later, the Ministry of Economics and Defense announced that Germany approved the export of up to 178 Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks to Ukraine. “How many Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks will actually be delivered to Ukraine depends on the necessary repair work,” the statement said. “Der Spiegel” and Reuters had previously reported.

In Kyiv, Pistorius also spoke to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In an interview with the “heute journal” on ZDF, Pistorius made it clear that further tank deliveries, such as the Gepard anti-aircraft tank, to Ukraine will follow. “The cheetah plays a very central role here in air defense, especially in cities and in critical infrastructure. And also, in addition to the 30 cheetahs already delivered, we delivered two more in January, with five more to come,” said Pistorius.

When it comes to the delivery of Leopard 2 main battle tanks, Germany would stick to its promises: “We will be able to deliver our contribution by the end of March.” However, the minister leaves open whether other countries will come along. “Germany is the largest donor with 14 Leopard A6 tanks. We’re still in talks with two or three countries that might come up with something, but it’s not final yet,” he said. When asked about Marder armored personnel carriers, the minister replied: “We will also be supplying 40 Marders this year, which in turn can then also fight together in the units. That’s important too. So we’re doing everything we can.” A delivery of fighter jets, on the other hand, was not part of the talks with President Zelenskyj.

Poland on the itinerary

Pistorius’ stay in Kyiv was initially kept secret for security reasons. Pistorius was actually expected on Tuesday for his first trip abroad as Defense Minister in Poland. According to the plan, he wanted to get an idea of ​​the Bundeswehr’s deployment on NATO’s eastern flank in the south-east of the country. Two German squadrons with Patriot anti-aircraft missiles with about 300 soldiers recently reported operational readiness near Zamość.

Last spring, the United States sent two Patriot squadrons to Poland to protect the Rzeszów route through which military supplies and other supplies are being sent to Ukraine. As Warsaw likes to point out, the German Patriot batteries are tactically subordinate to the Polish Air Operations Centre. However, in an emergency, the German representative in the command center can draw a “red card” if the deployment of the Bundeswehr anti-missiles should contravene German operational rules, so that an American battery would then probably be deployed.

Patriot launch stations at Warsaw Airport

Patriot launch stations at Warsaw Airport

Image: Reuters

In November, Poland was directly affected by the war in the neighboring country for the first time: an anti-missile apparently fired by the Ukrainian army killed two people in a village. As a result, the German Defense Minister announced the deployment of a total of three Patriot batteries, of which Germany has twelve. Poland initially replied that the anti-missile missiles would be better placed in western Ukraine, but finally accepted the German offer. Cooperation in south-eastern Poland is going extremely well, according to the German side this week.

Germany later decided to support Ukraine with the delivery of the Patriot system as well. A group of about 70 Ukrainian soldiers has already arrived in Germany for training. Overall, the federal government wants to give Kyiv a Patriot battery to defend against Russian drones, missiles and planes; according to the Berlin “list of military support services”, this is currently “in preparation”. The system will then be operated by Ukrainian soldiers.

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