Poland has stepped up pressure on Berlin over arms to Ukraine, saying it would send German-made Leopard tanks to Kyiv if other countries did the same.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government wants the widely-used tanks to help it break through Russian lines and recapture territory.
But Germany, which must approve re-exports of the Leopard, has held back, wary of moves that could cause Moscow to escalate, and says other Nato nations have yet to formally seek permission to supply Kyiv.
It came as EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to allocate another £440m worth of military aid for Ukraine, along with a further £30m for “non-lethal equipment” for military training of Ukraine, Swedish and Czech officials.
Meanwhile, Russia and Estonia expelled ambassadors from each other’s countries in a deepening row over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and Latvia said it would downgrade its own diplomatic relations with Russia to support its Baltic neighbour.
At Monday’s EU talks in Brussels, the issue of battle tanks dominated discussions.
“At this point there are no good arguments why battle tanks cannot be provided,” Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics said. “The argument of escalation does not work, because Russia continues escalating.”
Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki said Warsaw would ask Germany for permission to re-export the tanks to Kyiv.
“Even if we did not get this approval… we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine. The condition for us at the moment is to build at least a small coalition of countries,” he said.
Poland has said it would provide a company of Leopards – around 14 – but Mr Morawiecki said a transfer only made sense as part of a brigade – a variable but much larger number. Some 20 countries operate the tank, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
Ukraine and Russia are both believed to be planning spring offensives to break the deadlock in what has become a war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine as the first anniversary of the Russian invasion nears.
After Ukrainian advances last year, front lines have been largely frozen in place for two months, despite heavy losses on both sides. Ukraine says Western tanks would give its ground troops the mobility, protection and firepower to break through Russian defensive lines and resume their advance.
“We need tanks – not 10 or 20, but several hundred,” Mr Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram. “Our goal is [restoring] the borders of 1991 and punishing the enemy, who will pay for their crimes.”
Defence analyst Konrad Muzyka said that if tanks were sent without Berlin’s consent, Germany could at some point refuse to supply spare parts for them, which was why Poland was hoping other countries would also send Leopards.
“The political problem for Germany if they wanted to cut off the supply of spare parts would be much bigger if there was a coalition,” he said.
Britain has said it will supply 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. French president Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Ukraine its own Leclerc tanks.
Leopards are more widely available than the British and French tanks, and use less fuel than the turbine-powered US Abrams.
The Kremlin said the splits in Europe over whether to provide tanks to Kyiv showed there was increasing “nervousness” within the Nato military alliance.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report