BERLIN (Reuters) – Military equipment maker Rheinmetall is preparing to supply up to 50 used Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine, the Handelsblatt newspaper reported on Monday, citing the group’s CEO.
Rheinmetall could deliver the first tanks in six weeks and the rest over the following three months through its subsidiary Rheinmetall Italia if it gets a green light from the German government, Chief Executive Armin Papperger told Handelsblatt.
Papperger said Ukrainian soldiers could be trained on the Leopard 1 within a few days if they are already skilled military personnel.
Some German government politicians have said it takes too long to train Ukrainians to handle Western weapons, and it was better to send equipment they can operate right away.
Handelsblatt reported that politicians from Germany’s coalition government, made up of Social Democrats, the Greens and Free Democrats, and are open to a possible delivery of the Leopard tanks, the newspaper reported.
“You have to be trained a bit more intensively on the Leopard 1. But if the Ukrainians want the tank, a way should be found,” Marcus Faber, defence policy spokesperson for the Free Democrats’ parliamentary group, told the paper.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Monday weapons from Germany for Ukraine should be delivered quickly because Russia’s attack from the east is imminent.
“With the decision to support Ukraine with weapons, Germany made an obligation,” Habeck said.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24, Germany has reversed a long-standing policy of not sending weapons to conflict zones and Berlin has supplied Kyiv with anti-tank weapons and missiles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his troops into Ukraine on what he calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and the West say Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
Rheinmetall’s Leopard 1 battle tank is a predecessor model of the Leopard 2 currently in service with the German armed forces, and the armies using it have returned it to the supplier while upgrading their equipment, Handelsblatt reported.
(Reporting by Zuzanna Szymanska; Editing by Gareth Jones and Jane Merriman)