Aug 29, 2023
Ukraine could get another 100 or so Leopard 1A5 tanks on top of the 178 Leopard 1s it already is getting from a Belgian-Danish-Dutch-German consortium.
But the deal is going to require some deft diplomacy—because it involves Switzerland, which despite Russia’s continuing aggression has maintained a policy of neutrality toward the Russia-Ukraine war.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was in Greece in mid-August working out an arrangement whereby the Greek air force would help to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the scores of F-16 fighters the Ukrainian air force is acquiring from Danish, Dutch and Norwegian stocks.
According to Greek reporter Phaedon Karaiosisfidis, Zelensky’s visit coincided with a second negotiation—one that could send Greek tanks to Ukraine. Under the proposal, Greece reportedly would donate to Ukraine around a hundred of its roughly 500 1980s-vintage Leopard 1A5s.
To compensate Greece and restore its tank inventory, Germany would buy from Swiss firm RUAG an equal number of ex-Italian Leopard 1A5s, upgrade the tanks with new optics and provide them to Greece.
RUAG reportedly owns 96 Leopard 1A5s that it bought from the Italian army as the latter was retiring its old tanks in the early 2000s. Weirdly, the Swiss-owned, ex-Italian tanks remain on Italian soil: a wrinkle inside a wrinkle on an already wrinkly situation.
If the circular, three-way tank-transfer seems needlessly complex, blame Switzerland. The Germans for months have wheedled the Swiss to sell them those ex-Italian Leopard 1A5s so the Germans can pass the tanks on to the Ukrainians. But the Swiss parliament rejected the transfer, citing Switzerland’s neutrality.
The proposal for a circular arms-transfer, which might help to alleviate the Swiss parliament’s political concerns, isn’t unprecendented. Germany motivated Slovenia to give Ukraine 28 M-55S tanks by offering Slovenia a consignment of military trucks.
The Ukrainians have everything to gain from the complex proposal. They need tanks, even tanks that are as lightly protected as the Leopard 1A5s are.
And the deal would cost Greece nothing. Indeed, the Greek army stands to benefit, too. “At a cost … that the German government will cover, the Greek army will be able to acquire enough tanks to equip two large armored units, which will be significantly more capable than what it has today,” Karaiosisfidis wrote.
Besides, Karaiosisfidis pointed out, Greece planned to retire its Leopard 1A5s in the coming years, anyway. The tanks might as well go out fighting for freedom and democracy in Europe.
But don’t celebrate quite yet. Swiss lawmakers still must approve the German-brokered tank-transfer. “Whether the parliament will obstruct such circular supplies involving Greece remains uncertain,” the independent Conflict Intelligence Team noted.