BERLIN (AP) — Germany wants to buy mothballed Leopard 2 battle tanks from Switzerland to replace tanks that Berlin and its Western allies are sending to Ukraine, the Swiss government said Friday.
The Swiss Defense Ministry said that Germany’s defense and economy ministers wrote on Feb. 23 to Swiss Defense Minister Viola Amherd, setting out German manufacturer Rheinmetall’s interest in buying Leopard 2 tanks that the Swiss army doesn’t plan to put back into service.
They assured Amherd that the tanks, if bought, wouldn’t be sent to Ukraine and would be used by Germany or its NATO and European partners to fill the gaps in their own stocks created by their donations of tanks to Kyiv and to improve the availability of replacement parts.
That’s an issue because Switzerland has a long tradition of neutrality. Germany so far has been unable to persuade the Swiss to provide supplies from their stockpile of ammunition for Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns that Berlin provided to Ukraine.
The ministry, in an emailed response to a query after Swiss daily Blick reported on the request, didn’t specify how many tanks Germany would like to buy. Switzerland has 230 of the German-made Leopard 2 tanks, 96 of which aren’t in operation, according to German news agency dpa.
Amherd this week responded to the German government that any sale would require a decision by the Swiss parliament to declare the tanks officially removed from service, and that while there are discussions in parliament, no such decision has yet been made.
Her ministry said that the army has determined that in principle it would be possible to do without a “limited number” of battle tanks.
Germany is providing 18 of its own military’s Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and they are expected to be delivered later this month. Together with tanks provided by Sweden and Portugal, they will make up a battalion. Poland and other countries also are providing Leopard 2 tanks.
Germany’s defense minister has pushed for the tanks to be replaced as quickly as possible.
German Defense Ministry spokesman Arne Collatz confirmed Germany’s interest in the tanks from Switzerland but said there had been no discussion yet of how many tanks might be involved.
Asked whether similar queries were made to other countries, Collatz replied that “we are in constant contact and good talks with many partners.” He didn’t elaborate.