After weeks of calling out Germany on its refusal to commit to send its renowned Leopard 2 tanks to fight in Ukraine, Poland is now basking in the glory of being Kyiv’s chief ally in Europe.
Or so say the Polish government and its affiliated media. It is true that Warsaw has pounded Berlin on the tanks issue whenever possible, building on earlier criticism of Germany’s strategic choice to make Russian gas the staple fuel of the German energy transition. That, according to Berlin, was supposed to be only business – a view that Poland warned against for years.
On the other hand, Poland was not alone. Isolated on many issues in the EU, when it came to supporting Ukraine, Poland had nearly the entire CEE – with the notable exception of Hungary – behind its back, as well as Finland and the UK.
Poland played the tank game in two concurrent modes. One was to push Germany to send the tanks Germans had. The other – and which, according to some observers, turned out to be the key move – was to keep asking Germany to okay sending the Leopards other countries had (Leopard sales deals include a clause that German consent is needed to send the tanks abroad).
In hindsight, it was only a matter of time before German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave in and announced the tanks were going to roll once his Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “if we were asked [for approval to send the tanks] we would not stand in the way”.
“As senior officials in Berlin said, allowing Poland to export while not sending tanks itself would have made little sense politically for Germany,” Politico Europe observed.
Poland officials were visibly pleased following the developments – which also included a US pledge to send 31 Abrams tanks to help Ukraine.
“President Andrzej Duda declared in Lviv [earlier in January] Poland’s readiness to hand over the Leopards, pointing to the need to form an international coalition [to do so]. After many efforts, this coalition is becoming a reality today,” tweeted Marcin Przydacz, the head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, a presidential office.
“We accept Germany’s declaration with satisfaction. It’s a good decision,” Przydacz added.
By pushing for the German tanks to be sent to Ukraine, Poland may have also strengthened its position in the war-torn country.
“Poland was the first country to publicly announce Leopard 2 delivery, thus contributing crucially to the forming of the tank coalition,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.
“Thank you very much Poland for your leadership and determination in handing over Ukraine Leopard 2 tanks and building an international coalition,” Ukrainian ambassador to Poland Vasyl Zvwarych tweeted.
Poland has already hinted that it is going to push the allies for more.
“It’s a good start,” said Radoslaw Fogiel, who heads the parliamentary foreign affairs committee on behalf of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party.
"We hope … that if our Western partners said A, they would also say B,” Fogiel added.
German Leopards – of which Ukraine may get more than 100 from the newly formed coalition of the willing – the American Abrams and the British Challengers could turn out to be a game-changer in the war.
Poland leading the effort to get the tanks delivered to Ukraine may also give the ruling PiS extra clout in the election year, some observers note.
“Poland is strengthening its position as a country that has not only become an infrastructural hub for aid to Ukraine, but also strives to ensure that this aid flows from various parts of the world,” conservative commentator Michal Szuldrzynski wrote in the Rzeczpospolita newspaper.
What is good for PiS and personally for Prime Minister Morawiecki, who will naturally be one of the faces of Poland’s successful tank diplomacy offensive, is that the opposition will be hardly in any position to criticise the government – unless it wants to be accused of undermining the allied war effort, Szuldrzynski wrote.
Opposition figures dodge praising PiS by underlining that it was the pressure from the US that led to Germany’s changing its mind about the tanks.
“The US pushed so hard on this that I expected that Germany, having no real arguments against it, would make such a decision sooner or later,” former Defence Minister Tomasz Siemoniak told Rzeczpospolita.