Thirty secondhand Leopard I battle tanks are to be refurbished by the arms manufacturer Rheinmetall at the orders of the German government and exported to Ukraine, a spokesperson for the company has confirmed.
The tanks are part of a fleet of 49 vehicles that the Düsseldorf-based company purchased from the Belgian private defence company OIP Land Systems. Some of the vehicles are reportedly in such poor condition they will serve only for the supply of spare parts.
The spokesperson said he could not comment on the timeline for the delivery of the 30 Leopards for contractual reasons. Freddy Versluys, CEO of OIP, said this week it could be up to six months before the tanks arrived on the battlefield.
Versluys previously bought 50 Leopard 1 tanks for €37,000 each (about £29,600) that were decommissioned in 2014 by the Belgian government as part of a wider trend among western countries of cutting defence spending.
The Leopard 1 used to be the main battle tank of West Germany’s armed forces, first being used in 1965, but it has since been replaced by the Leopard 2 model.
A German government spokesperson on Wednesday said the tanks were part of the military aid package that the German defence minister, Boris Pistorius, announced at the end of the Nato summit in Vilnius in July.
This summer Germany promised Ukraine 110 Leopard 1 tanks as part of a €2.7bn aid package, of which only 10 have so far been delivered. The government spokesperson said the 30 tanks being prepared by Rheinmetall were “on top” of the 110 tanks already promised.
Leopards belonging to IOP were at the centre of a public spat this year when the Belgian defence minister, Ludivine Dedonder, said her country had considered buying the tanks but accused the firm of trying to make a “huge profit” from the sale. Versluys at the time denied that the Belgian government had approached him.
The clash underlined a predicament faced by western governments trying to find weapons for Ukraine after more than a year of intense warfare; arms they discarded as obsolete are now in high demand, and often owned by private companies. With EU nations’ stocks of weapons severely depleted, countries have been turning to firms like OIP.
“The fact that they leave our company proves that we asked for a fair market price and someone was more than happy to take them,” Versluys said in a post on LinkedIn on Tuesday, accompanying it with a picture of tanks next to a bottle of Ukrainian vodka. “I am glad they will finally join the fight for freedom.”
Versluys previously sold 46 M113 light armoured vehicles to the UK, which were then transferred to Ukraine as part of a military package.
Source : The Guardian