Leopard tanks
Image: Wikimedia

Portugal prepares to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine

“We are contributing to defeat of Russia” – foreign affairs minister

Portugal will be sending some of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, pending the training of Ukrainian troops.

The announcement came today from foreign affairs minister João Gomes Cravinho who declined to say how many tanks the country is releasing.

Right now, Portugal is known to have 37 Leopard 2 super-tanks, but only 12 have been described as “fully operational”.

As to the logistics of how to get the tanks to Ukraine, Mr Gomes Cravinho said they will “very likely” be sent through Spain “via railways”

Speaking to SIC Notícias from Castelo Branco, he stressed the time line will probably still involve two to three months. Nonetheless, the “commitment is formalised”. Portugal is “contributing to the defeat of Russia”, he said.

Today’s news comes after authorization expressed this morning by Germany, which holds the rights to these tanks as a manufacturer, and which will be sending 14 to Ukraine, in a first phase.

Ukraine’s president Zelenskyy has asked for 300 armoured personnel, to help Ukraine turn the tide on the war. It is unlikely to be getting that number, but every single tank helps.

Portugal may only send four tanks, in the end. This is the number floated by media sources that usually get a heads up before official announcements – but ‘officially’ confirmation has yet to come.

Why all the focus on Leopard 2?

The short answer is that it they could be gamechanging. Military experts inside Nato believe that with enough of these tanks, Ukraine will be able to push into Russian-held areas “previously unreachable with the equipment its soldiers once had”.

The German-made Leopard 2 is one of the most well-reputed battle tanks in the world, perhaps second only to the US-made M1 Abrams tank.

It was originally designed in the 1970s for the West German army in response to Soviet threats during the Cold War.

These tanks are built to move quickly over a variety of terrain and confront enemy armour — like the tanks Russia has been using on the ground in Ukraine since the first days of its invasion almost a year ago.

Since Russia began its invasion, tanks have been prominent on the battlefield.

For its part, Ukraine has mostly relied on Soviet-era T-72s. The West has already supplied other armoured vehicles and pledged to send still more, including Bradley fighting vehicles and Stryker combat vehicles from the US, and a newly announced shipment of Challenger 2 tanks from the UK.

But none represents the combination of accuracy, firepower and mobility of the modern battle tanks made by Germany and the United States. Ukrainian officials have said that such tanks could be the key to a speedy Ukrainian victory — perhaps even this year

For more on these tanks/ what they stand for, see NPR (non-profit national public radio)  or the Telegraph, whose journalists run a daily podcast “Ukraine, the Latest” which has been widely hailed as the best running commentary on this conflict open to everyone interested.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com