Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday accused the German government of breaking its word on an agreement to supply Warsaw with new tanks as compensation for Polish deliveries of Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last month introduced the so-called “Ringtausch,” a swap scheme under which eastern NATO partners would supply the Ukrainian army with Soviet-era tanks like the T-72 in exchange for modern western tanks from German manufacturers, such as the Leopard. Scholz and German officials have argued that this model is advantageous for Ukraine because it gets the same Soviet-era tanks that its soldiers and mechanics are already familiar with, while eastern NATO countries receive an upgrade.
Duda argued in an interview with German news outlet Welt that Berlin was not delivering on its commitment to deliver new tanks to replace the exported vehicles. “They have not fulfilled this promise. And frankly, we are very disappointed about this,” the Polish president said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, according to a translation provided by Welt.
“We have provided Ukraine with a large number of tanks … because we believe it is our responsibility as a neighbor,” Duda said, referring to reports that Warsaw handed at least 240 Soviet-era tanks to the Ukrainian military. “By doing so, we depleted our own military potential and stockpiles,” he argued.
The Polish president added that “a large part of our tank arsenal in the Polish armed forces are German Leopard tanks,” adding that Berlin had made a “promise” to deliver such tanks to Poland.
A German defense ministry spokesperson said Monday that Berlin was “engaged in a constructive exchange with our Polish allies and to see how we can reconcile their wishes and our possibilities,” but admitted: “There is still a bit of work ahead of us.”
The spokesperson added that Warsaw had informed Berlin on April 26 about its decision to transfer Soviet-style tanks to Ukraine. The spokesperson added that German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht had “very much welcomed this in a bilateral meeting and offered to enter into an exchange with Poland on whether and how Germany can help fill the gaps that arise.”
Also on Monday, the same spokesperson said that Berlin was already successfully implementing the “Ringtausch” with the Czech Republic and would deliver 14 Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks and one Leopard tank recovery vehicle to Prague under the swap scheme.
One German official suggested that the row with Warsaw might be linked to the fact that Poland wants better tanks from Germany: While the Leopard 2A4 that the Czech Republic is receiving was built in the late 1980s and has partly been upgraded since, Poland has expressed interest in more modern versions of the tank such as the Leopard 2A6, the official said.
In another broadside from Warsaw against Berlin on Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki criticized Chancellor Scholz for his refusal to travel to Kyiv. “I think he should do that,” Morawiecki told Welt.
He added: “There is nothing better than visiting the capital of the fighting nation to realize the seriousness of the situation, to get a sense of the importance of all that is happening there.”
Scholz has refused to travel to the Ukrainian capital for the moment, arguing that he had already gone there 10 days before the Russian invasion started, and would not go again “for a quick in and out with a photoshoot.”
“If [I go to Kyiv], then it’s always about very specific things. And they have to be prepared,” Scholz told German television RTL last week.