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Switzerland to Return Leopard 2 Tanks to Germany

Neutral Switzerland has resisted European pressure to send weapons to Ukraine. Now it’s agreed to return 25 Leopard 2 battle tanks to Germany, providingng they don’t end up in Ukraine.

Switzerland‘s government on Wednesday gave final approval to export 25 Leopard 2 battle tanks back to Germany, re-selling them to the original manufacturer Rheinmetall. 

It’s the culmination of a deal that had been in the making for most of the year, as European countries tried to persuade neutral Switzerland to return some of its excess tanks kept in storage, so they could fill ranks thinned out by other European and NATO countries sending the tanks to Ukraine. 

Germany assured the tanks would not go to Ukraine

The government in Bern had initially resisted, saying it was wary of returning any tanks if there was a possibility of the vehicles later ending up being used against Russian forces in Ukraine.

This would violate the country’s constitutionally enshrined military neutrality and its strict laws on weapons exports. 

“This delivery of tanks abroad satisfies the approval criteria and the war material law,” Switzerland’s Bundesrat said as it announced the decision. “Particularly meaningful is the fact that Germany has assured that the sold tanks will remain in Germany or NATO or EU partners, to fill their own gaps.” 

Why were Swiss tanks wanted? 

The specific model in question, the 87 Leopard 2 A4, is a comparatively new vehicle in the slow-moving world of weapons production, having launched in 2010. 

Germany’s Bundeswehr and several other European militaries had outstanding orders for the vehicles, even as the countries started exporting some of their models to Ukraine, further depleting their own stocks.

Although constitutionally neutral, wealthy Switzerland also has a policy of maintaining a well-stocked and modern military. 

It has 136 of the tanks currently in service, and another 96 decommissioned models that were being kept in storage, 25 of which are now slated for return.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck and Defense Minister Boris Pistorius issued a joint appeal on a visit in February this year for Switzerland to reconsider its stance and make some available.  

They sought to convince Switzerland that resupplying countries that aren’t party to the war in Ukraine — even if that, in turn, enabled those countries to consider further deliveries to Kyiv themselves — would not violate the country’s weapons export rules.

Switzerland’s parliament granted provisional approval in September. The Swiss army, which owns the tanks, then filed an export request. This was formally approved on Wednesday. 

Germany similarly hesitant to send tanks — at first

Until Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Germany had very similar rules about exporting weapons to hot conflicts. These dated back to Germany’s defeat in World War II and its postwar efforts to redefine itself as a non-aggressive nation.

The government in Berlin faced considerable pressure from NATO allies and Ukraine earlier in the conflict for its perceived hesitancy to provide Kyiv with an array of different kinds of weapons. 

Leopard 2 battle tanks, also suited to offensive ground operations, were one example of military equipment that Germany only agreed to send after several weeks of pressure and after assurances from the US that it would dispatch comparable military vehicles from its stores. 

Western stores both of military hardware and the ammunition it uses have come under strain as the countries seek to supply Kyiv with equipment that’s a match for Russia’s military. 

Source: DW News

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