Faced with accusations it has lost vital time dithering over tanks for Ukraine, Germany put on a military show and fought back against its critics.
Puma armoured fighting vehicles raced through the freezing fog of the Altengrabow training base in eastern Germany and fired 30mm live rounds at imaginary enemies. From the back of one of them, the country’s new but energetic defence minister looked on.
Boris Pistorius told Sky News there had been no hesitation over sending the Leopard 2 tanks as he arrived. There had been only negotiations with Germany’s allies he insisted.
The Leopards will get there by the end of March at the latest, he said. The decision to send Europe’s leading battle tank would send a clear message to Russia that Germany will not relent and will stand with Ukraine he added.
The decision marks a sea change in the West’s posture in this war. Its policy of arming the Ukrainians with enough to fight but not enough to provoke a Russian escalation has failed. Russia is escalating anyway, mobilising hundreds of thousands of men.
But upping the ante has meant overcoming German hang-ups over its military past. There are profound reservations here about sending battle tanks in a country deeply wary of military aggression for obvious reasons, not least the shame of what German tanks did to Russians in World War Two.
Russian propaganda channels have had a field day in the last 24 hours with absurd claims of a new Nazi “Fourth Reich” and demands Germany is attacked and destroyed. For good reason, Germany did not want to take the lead with tanks and openly urged America to go first. Washington was reluctant, too but for different reasons.
Hence the negotiations referred to by Pistorius. Washington and Berlin have now overcome those obstacles, both agreeing to send tanks. It will make a big difference to Ukraine’s military potential. But it also sends a clear message to Vladimir Putin. The West will not be held back by German doubts any longer.
The war is escalating again. A year ago, Germany was pilloried for sending only helmets. Now it is sending one of its most lethal weapons and putting on shows of force. The West hopes that will deter Putin from doing his worst but its leaders are well aware that nothing they’ve done so far has persuaded Russia’s leader to think again.