BERLIN (AP) - After weeks of hesitation that saw growing impatience among Germany's allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz was expected to announce Wednesday that his government will approve supplying German-made battle tanks to Ukraine.
The long-awaited decision came after U.S. officials said a preliminary agreement had been struck for the United States to send M1 Abrams tanks to help Kyiv push back Russian forces entrenched in the east almost a year since the start of the war.
Scholz had insisted that any move to provide Ukraine with powerful Leopard 2 tanks would need to be closely coordinated with Germany's allies, chiefly the United States. By getting Washington to commit some of its own tanks Berlin hopes to spread the risk of any backlash from Russia.
Members of Scholz's three-party coalition government welcomed the news ahead of the official announcement, expected in a speech to parliament early afternoon.
"The Leopard's freed!" said German lawmaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a senior Green party lawmaker.
Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a member of the Free Democratic Party who chairs the parliamentary defense committee, said the news was "a relief for a mistreated and brave Ukraine."
"The decision to approve (other countries' requests) and supply the Leopard 2 was arduous, but unavoidable," she said.
Strack-Zimmermann had been one of the loudest voices calling for a swift decision on arms supplies to Ukraine.
Two smaller opposition parties criticized the move, however.
The far-right Alternative for Germany called the decision "irresponsible and dangerous."
"Germany risks being drawn directly into the war as a result," its co-leader, Tino Chrupalla, said. The party, known by its acronym AfD, has friendly ties to Russia.
The Left party, which also has historic links to Moscow, warned of a possible escalation in the conflict.
"The supply of Leopard battle tanks, which ends a further taboo, potentially takes us closer to a third world war than in the direction of peace in Europe," the party's parliamentary leader, Dietmar Bartsch, told German news agency dpa.
Recent opinion polls show German voters split on the idea.
The pressure on Scholz mounted this week after Poland formally asked Germany to approve sending Leopard 2 tanks from Polish stocks to Ukraine. Other European nations have also indicated willingness to part with their own battle tanks as part of a larger coalition.
Germany news weekly Der Spiegel reported that Berlin could initially approve the supply of one tank company, comprising 14 vehicles.
But Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made clear late Tuesday that he hoped to receive a more substantial number of tanks from western allies.
"It is not about five, or 10, or 15 tanks. The need is greater," he said.
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