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Poland ups pressure to send German-made tanks to Ukraine

Poland said Monday it was willing to send German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine without approval, but would first seek permission from Berlin, as Kyiv presses its allies for heavy weaponry.

European nations agreed to spend another 500 million euros ($540 million) to arm Kyiv in the latest boost to the multi-billion-dollar drive to help Ukraine push back Russian forces.

However, while scores of nations have pledged military hardware, Kyiv is clamouring for more advanced and heavier weapons, notably the powerful Leopard — seen as key to punching through enemy lines.

Berlin, which needs to grant permission for the tanks to be sent to Ukraine, has come under fire for failing to take the critical decision.

After days of mounting pressure and stalling, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Sunday said Germany would not stand in the way if Warsaw asked to send Leopard tanks.

“We will seek this approval,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters Monday.

“Even if we didn’t get such an approval in the end, we will give our tanks to Ukraine anyway — within a small coalition of countries, even if Germany isn’t in that coalition”, Morawiecki said.

Ukraine, which is still using Soviet-era tanks, has said the world’s indecision is only “killing more of our people”.

Poland announced earlier this month that it was ready to deliver 14 Leopard tanks to Kyiv but was waiting for a clear statement from Berlin authorising the transfer.

Berlin has insisted on the need for all allies to work together.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman reiterated that stance Monday, saying the government “does not rule out” the tanks’ transfer but added: “It has not yet been decided.”

– Permission required –

Haunted by its post-World War II guilt, Germany has always acted carefully when it comes to conflicts.

German laws require countries that purchase its weapons to ask for approval before handing them over.

This is to prevent German-made armaments from being used in conflict zones against Germany’s interests.

On Friday, some 50 nations agreed to provide Kyiv with billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware, including armoured vehicles and munitions needed to push back Russian forces.

European foreign ministers on Monday agreed to spend an extra 500 million euros to arm Ukraine, diplomats said. This takes the total common EU spending to 3.6 billion euros.

– Ambassadors expelled –

In a further ratcheting up of tensions between Russia and its European neighbours, the Baltic states Latvia and Estonia said they would expel the Russian ambassadors to their countries.

Estonia removed the ambassador in a tit-for-tat move after Russia said it was downgrading diplomatic ties with Tallin due to its “total Russophobia”.

Hours later, Latvia’s foreign ministry said it had asked Russia’s ambassador to leave in solidarity with Estonia, and due to Moscow’s continued “military aggression” in Ukraine.

– ‘Destroyed’ Soledar –

In Ukraine’s war-scarred east, a Russian proxy official claimed to have visited Soledar, the flattened town in the Donetsk region of Ukraine that Moscow said it captured this month.

Denis Pushilin, Moscow’s top official responsible for Donetsk, said late Sunday he had visited the “destroyed” salt mining town with Zurab Makiev, a member of Russia’s parliament.

Russia claimed control of Soledar on January 13. Ukraine has not formally announced the withdrawal of its forces from the town.

Russia’s defence ministry has said the town’s capture is an important step to pushing out Ukrainian troops from Bakhmut, a larger mining town nearby.

Pushilin said fighting in Bakhmut was “intensifying” and claimed Russian troops were advancing and that mercenaries were controlling strategic heights near Bakhmut.

In Moscow, residents braved the threat of arrest to lay flowers at an improvised memorial to at least 46 people killed in a Russian attack on a residential building in Dnipro last week.

“How can I express how I feel about this tragedy. I want to express sympathy and offer condolences to the people who are suffering right now,” Elena Ivanova, a mathematician, told AFP.