KYIV (Reuters) -Western nations appeared on Tuesday to be close to a diplomatic agreement to supply significant numbers of battle tanks to Ukraine, while Kyiv dismissed more than a dozen senior officials in its biggest leadership shake-up since Russia’s invasion.
German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday evening that Chancellor Olaf Scholz has decided to send German Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow other countries such as Poland to do so. A German government spokesperson declined to comment. The defence ministry was not immediately available for comment.
Poland said it had formally sent a request to the German government to allow it to send some of its Leopards to Ukraine, pushing Berlin closer to a long-awaited decision on allowing the re-export of the NATO workhorse heavy tank.
And U.S. officials said Washington may drop its opposition to sending some of its Abrams tanks, in a move designed to encourage Germany to follow.
Separately on Tuesday Ukraine dismissed more than a dozen senior officials including governors of several major battlefield provinces, part of an anti-corruption drive by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government made more critical by the need to keep its Western backers onside.
Poland’s announcement of a request for Berlin’s permission to re-export Leopards tanks to Ukraine appeared to leave Scholz little room to continue putting off a decision in the main debate among allies over how best to support Ukraine.
“I hope that this answer from Germany will come quickly, because the Germans are delaying, dodging, acting in a way that is difficult to understand,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference. “We can see that they do not want to help Ukraine defend itself in a wider way.”
A German government spokesperson said: “We will treat the proceedings with the urgency they deserve.”
Two U.S. officials, meanwhile, told Reuters the United States appeared to be dropping its opposition to sending some of its M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine.
While the Abrams is considered less suitable than the Leopard for Ukraine due to its heavy fuel consumption and difficulty to maintain, the move could encourage Germany to provide Leopards.
Kyiv has pleaded for months for Western tanks that it says it desperately needs to give its forces the firepower and mobility to break through Russian defensive lines and recapture occupied territory in the east and south.
Scholz’s Social Democrats have held back, wary of moves that could spur Russia to escalate the war, and what they see as a risk of the NATO alliance being drawn into the conflict.
Germany’s Leopards, fielded by armies across Europe, are widely seen as the best option, available in large numbers and easy to deploy and maintain. But Germany has resisted pressure to pledge any of its own Leopards, and until now had said its allies had yet to formally request permission to send theirs.
The chief of staff of Germany’s military said that whether to send tanks was a political decision. A senior official said the choice lay ultimately with Scholz and his cabinet.
Front lines in the war, which stretch more than 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) through eastern and southern Ukraine, have been largely frozen in place for two months despite heavy losses on both sides. Russia and Ukraine are both widely believed to be planning offensives.
Ukraine has long struggled to root out high-level corruption but the campaign has taken on vital significance as the Russian invasion has made Kyiv heavily reliant on Western support and the government pursues a bid to join the European Union.
Among Ukrainian officials who resigned or were dismissed on Tuesday were the governors of the Kyiv, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and adjacent Dnipropetrovsk are frontline provinces now. Kyiv and Sumy were major battlefields earlier in the war.
A deputy defence minister, a deputy prosecutor, a deputy head of Zelenskiy’s office and two deputy ministers responsible for regional development were among the others who left.
Some, though not all, had been linked with corruption allegations. Ukraine has a history of graft and shaky governance, and is under international pressure to show it can be a reliable steward of billions of dollars in Western aid.
Zelenskiy aide Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted: “The president sees and hears society. And he directly responds to a key public demand – justice for all.”
The purge came two days after a deputy infrastructure minister was arrested and accused of siphoning off $400,000 from contracts to buy generators – one of the first big corruption scandals to become public since the war began 11 months ago.
The Defence Ministry said Deputy Defence Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, responsible for supplying troops, had resigned to retain trust after what it called untrue media accusations of corruption. It followed a newspaper report that the ministry overpaid for food for troops, which the ministry denied.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy chief of staff in Zelenskiy’s office, announced his own resignation, also citing no reason. He had helped run the president’s 2019 election campaign and more recently had a role in overseeing regional policy.
As the shake-up unfolded in a series of announcements, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told a cabinet meeting that Ukraine was making progress in its anti-corruption campaign. “It is systemic, consecutive work which is very needed for Ukraine and is an integral part of integration with the EU,” he said.
The European Union, which offered Ukraine the status of candidate member last June, welcomed the development.
“As a general rule we do not comment on ongoing criminal investigations but we do welcome the fact that the Ukraine authorities are taking these issues seriously,” an EU spokeswoman said.