Germany delivers Leopard tanks to Ukraine
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Germany has delivered promised Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Monday, providing Kyiv with much-needed heavy weaponry against Russia.
The delivery of what Scholz said were "very modern" German-made battle tanks comes some two months after Berlin finally gave the green light for them to be sent.
Ukraine has appealed to its western allies to make good on their pledges of heavy arms to push back Russian forces, ahead of a possible spring counter-offensive by Kyiv.
"Yes, we delivered Leopard tanks as we announced," Scholz told a press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Rotterdam when asked to confirm a report in news outlet Spiegel.
"We're providing very modern (tanks) which we have now delivered."
The Spiegel report said Berlin had delivered 18 of the advanced Leopards, with the last of the tanks having left Germany at the end of last week, before being handed over to Ukraine at the border.
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Germany's defence ministry later confirmed the 18 Leopard deliveries, along with two armoured "Buffel" tank recovery vehicles.
About 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles have also arrived in Ukraine, it said.
"Our tanks have made it into the hands of our Ukrainian friends as promised and on time," German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said in a statement.
"I'm sure they can make a difference on the ground."
Berlin was keeping the route of the deliveries secret for security reasons, Spiegel said.
Ukrainian soldiers were trained on the 2A6s, the most advanced of the Leopard models, on German military bases. They have also trained at Spanish bases.
At the end of January, Berlin finally gave the green light for Leopards -- among the world's most advanced tanks and used by militaries across Europe -- to be sent to Ukraine.
The US said at the same time it would send advanced American Abrams tanks.
Under German law, any country wanting to send the tanks to another country must first get approval from Berlin.
Scholz's government initially said it was aiming to assemble, along with allies, two battalions of tanks for Kyiv -- about 60 tanks in total.
But they have since struggled to get the numbers together.
The German and Dutch cabinets held a special joint session in the port city of Rotterdam on Monday at the huge, mirrored depot of the Boijmans Van Beuningen art museum.
Scholz and Rutte said they had discussed military support for Ukraine and their "unique" military cooperation, which involves Germany and the Netherlands merging some armed units.
"The European message remains completely clear, even after more than a year: we support Ukraine in all areas and we will do so as long as it is necessary," Rutte said.
The Dutch premier also condemned recent Russian statements, including former president Dmitry Medvedev talking about targeting the International Criminal Court in The Hague with a hypersonic missile.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian Vladimir Putin over allegations of war crimes earlier this month.
"We find these type of statements irresponsible and dangerous," Rutte said.
"That also goes for the threat to put nuclear weapons in Belarus," he said, referring to plans announced by Putin to deploy tactical atomic bombs in Russia's ally Belarus.