Germany Could Soon Be an Intermediary For ‘Neutral’ Swiss Leopard 2 Tanks to Support Ukraine

On March 3 the Swiss Federal Department of Defence announced that Germany was seeking to re-purchase Swiss Army Leopard 2 tanks, after this had been reported in Swiss papers. “From the army’s point of view, it would be possible in principle to dispense with a limited number of battle tanks, minus those necessary for Switzerland’s own needs,” Defence Ministry spokesman Lorenz Frischknecht announced. He confirmed that on February 23 German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius and Economy Minister Robert Habeck formally proposed to purchase 96 tanks, adding that the Army had begun to study the issue but that the final decision would like with the Swiss parliament. The German Defence Ministry subsequently confirmed Berlin’s interest in acquisitions of Swiss Leopard 2 tanks. The Leopard 2 is the most widely fielded tank class in the Western world, and has been in service for 44 years since 1979. Berlin previously showed significant reluctance to allow the vehicles to be dispatched to the Ukrainian front, with the Leopard 2’s recent combat record in the Middle East having left much to be desired fuelling speculation that the tank class could see its reputation suffer much further if engaging the Russian Military.

Germany confirmed in January that it would send Leopard 2s as aid to equip the Ukrainian Army, with other operators of the tank class across Europe also pledging to send the vehicles. Spain and Poland in particular led the push to dispatch Leopard 2s from their own stocks. The first Leopard 2s, send from Poland, arrived in Ukraine in late February, with the Polish Army replacing the vehicles in its own stocks with much more modern and sophisticated South Korean K2 tanks. Germany’s relatively small tank fleet, a fraction of the size of that of Ukraine’s own, has limited the country’s ability to equip the Ukrainian Army, with only 14 tanks having been pledged which still represents a very significant portion of its combat ready units. Only 30% of tanks in the Germany Army are considered operational and combat ready. Acquiring Leopard 2s from Switzerland would allow Germany to send more of the tanks it already has to Ukraine, while restocking its units with the ex-Swiss vehicles. In this way, although Switzerland has refused to supply weapons to an active war zone, it could indirectly arm Ukraine by significantly enlarging the German tank fleet. This would provide Germany with a much greater capacity to export even though the vehicles send by Switzerland will not necessarily be those sent to Ukraine. Switzerland is one of the only Western states to have refused to arm Ukraine directly, despite considerable pressure from across the Western world to do so.

A similar means of indirect arming by neutral states has been highlighted in the past as a means for China to support the Russian war effort against Ukraine and its Western backers, namely by replenishing the stocks of Iran or other third parties which are supplying Russia, and thus allowing these countries to send larger portions of their non-Chinese arsenals to bolster the Russian Military.