Austria won’t train Ukrainians to man Leopard 2s
Austria will not train Ukrainian soldiers on using Leopard 2 battle tanks, Defence Minister Klaudia Tanner confirmed in a written statement to the public broadcaster Ö1.
After Germany gave its needed green light for other states to send the German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, many states said they would send them, including Austria which said the first shipment would be sent at the end of March.
With regards to training Ukrainians to operate such tanks, however, Austria is much more reluctant.
It is the “sovereign decision of each state to support Ukraine within the framework of its laws”, Tanner said in her statement towards Ö1.
If Ukrainian soldiers are not trained now, then “it is done for political reasons”, international law expert Ralph Janik said, referring to the delicate domestic political discussion on neutrality.
“We prefer to live with what’s left of neutrality instead of testing the limits that the law does not see quite so narrowly,” he added.
The concept of neutrality, according to Austria is relatively strict compared to other European countries that have long claimed neutrality.
Neutral Ireland, for example, trains Ukrainian soldiers against demining, while Switzerland is currently debating whether to transfer domestically produced weapons to Ukraine.
This stance is also supported by the democratic opposition party SPÖ.
“We have to take the neutrality requirement seriously. We do not supply weapons to warring parties, it would be absurd to offer training on weapons systems such as battle tanks now,” said SPÖ security spokesman Robert Laimer in a press release.
Austria’s neutrality, which is enshrined in the Austrian constitution, does not allow for any weapon deliveries.
“It is important to emphasise that while we are militarily neutral according to our constitution and legal regulations, we are certainly not politically neutral when it comes to Ukraine,” Tanner told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview, stressing that Austria has supported all EU sanctions against Russia since the war started.
In the past, Austria’s neutrality has been a topic of discussion, for example after Sweden and Finland kickstarted their bid to join NATO, with experts and opposition parties criticising the Austrian government for its reluctance to reassess its position.
(Chiara Swaton | EURACTIV.de)