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Tanks or no tanks? Poland and Germany clash over “broken promise”

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Warsaw, Poland – The Polish and German governments have been trading accusations in recent days over the issue of tank deliveries amidst the war in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, President Andrzej Duda accused Germany of breaking its promise and reneging on its commitment to send tanks to Poland in exchange for those Warsaw has been sending to Ukraine since the start of the war.

Poland “very disappointed”, says Duda

“They have not fulfilled this promise. And frankly, we are very disappointed about this,” Duda said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Poland may have sent more than 240 Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion. “By doing so, we depleted our own military potential and stockpiles,” the Polish head of state continued, claiming that Germany had made a clear promise to make up for some of it.

Under the so-called “Ringtausch” scheme introduced by German chancellor Olaf Scholz last month, Central and Eastern European NATO member states will be able to deliver some of their Soviet-era tanks and other military equipment to help Ukraine ward off the Russian invasion, and in exchange receive more modern, Western-made models to make up for the loss.

Under this initiative, Germany already confirmed it would send 15 Leopard 2A4 tanks to the Czech Republic to compensate for the T-72s sent by Prague to the Ukrainian army.

German defence officials previously assured that Berlin and Warsaw were “engaged in a constructive exchange […] to see how we can reconcile [our] wishes and possibilities” but said “there is still a bit of work ahead of us.”

Germany denies “broken promise” claims

But reacting to Duda’s accusations, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Berlin was “flabbergasted” at the Polish President’s claim, arguing that Germany would not have made a hard promise before knowing exactly “what we can deliver”.

“There was a request from the Polish side to transfer state-of-the-art Leopold 2A7 main battle tanks to Poland, but the Bundeswehr itself only has a small number – about 50 – of these tanks,” Hebestreit said.

Some reports suggest that what appears to be turning into an “ugly argument” may be linked to Poland’s wish to receive more modern versions of the Leopard tanks, whereas the Czech Republic accepted older models from the 1980’s.

In the meantime, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki took a quick jab at Chancellor Scholz for his refusal to travel to Kyiv.

“There is nothing better than visiting the capital of the fighting nation to realise the seriousness of the situation, to get a sense of the importance of all that is happening there,” Morawiecki, who was among the first European leaders to make the trip with his Czech and Slovenian counterparts, said.