BERLIN — Germany has agreed to allow the export of its Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine, a government spokesman said on Friday, creating an opportunity for increased tank transfers to Ukraine as battles intensify in the country’s east.
The Leopard 1 is an older model of a German-made tank that Berlin approved the export of last month, the Leopard 2. The older tanks, which were produced from the 1960s to the 1980s, would need refurbishing before they could be ready for use in combat. They may also face a shortage of available ammunition.
The Leopard 1 tanks will most likely come from the stocks of German weapons manufacturers. But the chancellor’s spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, declined to provide details or comment on how many could be delivered. German news media reports have put the number at 29 to 88 tanks.
“I don’t want to say much more at this stage,” Mr. Hebestreit told journalists in Berlin on Friday. “That will then become more concrete in the coming days and weeks.”
Last week, under heavy pressure from European allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany agreed to send Ukraine 14 of Berlin’s significantly more modern Leopard 2 tanks and to allow other countries with the German-made tanks to do the same. He agreed to the transfers after the United States committed to sending Kyiv up to 30 of its M1 Abrams tanks.
A critical complication for getting Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine will be ammunition. Some of the ammunition needed is produced in Switzerland, whose strict neutrality policy has hindered sales for use in Ukraine. Brazil also manufactures rounds used by the Leopard 1 tank. But because of its close ties to Russia, Brazil has declined to give Germany the ammunition it produces — even after a visit to the country by Mr. Scholz last week, according to the Portuguese and German news media.
Unlike the Leopard 1 — the first main battle tank built for Germany’s armed forces after World War II — the more modern Leopard 2 is one of the world’s leading battle tanks. It has been used by the German Army for decades and by the militaries of more than a dozen other European nations, as well as by the armies of countries like Canada and Indonesia. The Leopard 2 has been used in conflicts in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Syria.