March 5. 2024. 2:08

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Germany asks Switzerland to sell mothballed Leopard 2 tanks

Germany has asked Switzerland to sell it some of its mothballed Leopard 2 tanks, the Swiss government said on Friday (3 March), in a deal that could allow Germany and other countries to increase military aid to Ukraine.

Germany wants Switzerland to sell some of the tanks back to manufacturer Rheinmetall, which would allow the company to backfill gaps in the armaments of European Union and NATO members.

Germany, Poland, Portugal, Finland and Sweden are among countries sending Leopard tanks to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian attack, creating gaps in their own arsenals.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius and Economics Minister Robert Habeck informed Swiss Defence Minister Viola Amherd about the project in a letter dated 23 February, the defence ministry told Reuters on Friday.

The story was first reported by Swiss newspaper Blick.

The German politicians asked their Swiss counterpart to agree the sale, with assurances the Swiss tanks would not be transferred to Ukraine itself.

“There would be no onward transfer of the battle tanks to Ukraine,” a Swiss Defence Ministry (VBS) spokesman told Reuters.

Under its neutrality laws and a separate arms embargo, Switzerland is prohibited from sending weapons directly to Ukraine.

Swiss Defence Minister Viola Amherd replied in a letter on March 1 that a possible sale of part of the Swiss tank fleet would require the Swiss parliament formally declare the mothballed tanks to be out of service, the VBS said.

“Discussions on this issue are currently under way in parliament,” the VBS spokesman added.

The Swiss military currently has 134 Leopard 2 tanks in service and a further 96 in storage. The government did not say how many Germany had requested to buy, but the VSB spokesman said the ary had said it would be possible to dispense with a limited number of tanks.

A spokesperson for the defence ministry in Berlin said he was not immediately able to comment.

Bern has previously blocked requests from Germany, Spain and Denmark to allow Swiss-made munitions they have previously bought to be re-exported to Ukraine.

But the issue is becoming increasingly divisive in Switzerland, with a pro-Ukraine shift in the public and political mood putting pressure on the government to end a ban on exports of Swiss weapons to war zones.

Calls from Switzerland’s European neighbours to allow such transfers to Kyiv have grown louder, and parliament’s two security committees have recommended that the rules be eased.