An unexpected offer of arms from Spain to Ukraine gets Chancellor Olaf Scholz in trouble. The country apparently wants to deliver 40 used Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv. Germany has to agree to this, and this is complicated for many reasons.

If Olaf Scholz is serious about his repeated confession that “Russia must not win this war,” then the news from Spain should have made him happy. There, the usually well-informed newspaper “El Pais” reported at the weekend, citing sources in the Ministry of Defense, that Spain wanted to be the first NATO state to deliver main battle tanks from Western production to Ukraine. Accordingly, the left-wing government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is preparing to deliver 40 Leopard 2 A4 tanks. There is also talk of ground-based anti-aircraft missiles of the Aspide type.

Nothing is official yet, but Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles declined to confirm or deny the report on Monday. This is an “extremely delicate subject,” she said, which requires “the utmost discretion.” She also stressed that arms deliveries would only take place after consultation with European and transatlantic partners.

Spanish offer to Ukraine puts Scholz under double pressure

The offer from Spain puts pressure on Scholz in two ways. So far, the federal government has refused to provide battle tanks for Ukraine, citing a coordinated procedure with NATO partners and especially the USA. Since the tanks allegedly offered by Spain are German-made weapons, Germany would have to formally approve the deal because the purchase contracts contain so-called end-use clauses in the event of a transfer.

Even if, as the Federal Chancellor clarified during a visit to Lithuania, there is currently no official request from Spain, the Federal Government will have to position itself on the issue. And that puts Scholz in a bind that he can’t like. If Germany refuses its consent, it would again act as a brakeman and obstructor. An image that has stuck with the chancellor since the beginning of the war and which he only recently tried to dispel in a combative appearance in the general debate in the Bundestag. A German no to the Spanish offer is therefore hardly imaginable, since it would be a quick win for the opposition, which could happily drive the SPD politician along in the coming weeks.

The deputy leader of the Union parliamentary group, Johann Wadephul (CDU), gave a foretaste in an interview with the “Augsburger Allgemeine”. Wadephul warned the federal government against leaving Ukraine hanging on a possible delivery of Leopard tanks from Spain. “Germany abandons Ukraine every day that no heavy weapons arrive there,” said Wadephul. “The seriousness of the situation was recognized more clearly in Madrid than in Berlin — a devastating realization,” said the CDU politician.

The CDU foreign policy expert Roderich Kiesewetter demanded in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”: “I expect that the federal government will issue the necessary export license as proactively as possible.” Even the FDP, in the form of Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chairwoman of the Bundestag’s Defense Committee, is putting on the pressure. She very much hopes that Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck will immediately grant approval for the export, the FDP politician told the “Spiegel”. “We don’t have time for debates.”

Is there an informal agreement among NATO partners?

On the other hand, a quick approval of the Spanish tank deal would also put the German government in a strange light. After all, they had so far blocked any delivery of Western battle tanks. In complicated ring exchange procedures, NATO partners are currently delivering mostly Russian equipment to Ukraine, for which the supplying countries are being compensated with more modern, Western models. The background is apparently the fear of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin in such a way that he would declare NATO a war party because of these deliveries.

It was also spread from the SPD that there was an informal agreement between the NATO partners not to supply western battle tanks and armored personnel carriers. The state secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Siemtje Möller, made a corresponding statement at the end of May on ZDF in the program “Berlin direkt”.

Approval of the arms deal would thwart Germany’s previous position and put the federal government in need of explanations for its previous line.

Spain bought the used German tanks from Germany in 1995 and stored them for the last time. According to the “El Pais” report, 40 of the vehicles could now be made operational again, although this would take some time. In addition, the Ukrainian soldiers would have to be trained, which could happen first in Latvia and later in Spain, according to “El Pais”.

As usual, Scholz is buttoned up on the question. If there is an application from Spain, it will be examined, said the SPD politician during his visit to Lithuania.