Germany approves transfer of 56 infantry fighting vehicles from Sweden to Ukraine

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Following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s continuous appeals for arms and ammunition, countries like the United States, Germany, the Czech Republic and Australia responded to the Ukrainian President’s appeal. These countries are sending Pbv-501s and Bushmaster armored vehicles to Ukraine. T-72 tanks could follow if US-brokered talks are successful.

On March 26, Zelensky renewed his calls for NATO planes and tanks, saying he only asked for “1%” of NATO tanks and planes. Zelensky said he asked for no more and that they had been waiting for 31 days, implying that European leaders were failing to support them with weapons.

“We don’t want a million quality bulletproof vests or special brand helmets. Give me something to defend my country, my state,” Zelenksy boldly said on Fox News.

This was reminiscent of his calls during his speech to NATO on March 24, where he demanded 1% of all NATO planes and tanks.

“Ukraine has asked for your planes so that we don’t lose so many people. And you have thousands of fighter jets! But we haven’t received any yet,” Zelensky said. “You have at least 20,000 tanks! Ukraine has demanded that one percent — one percent — of all your tanks be donated or sold to us! But we don’t have a clear answer,” the president said.

It is remembered that NATO members were initially reluctant to supply Ukraine with heavy offensive weapons, as evidenced by the failure of the agreement between Poland and the United States to donate planes MiG-29 fighter to Ukraine. Here, Poland was willing to donate the planes to the United States by delivering them to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and the United States would arrange for their delivery to Ukraine. In exchange, the US government would provide Poland with aircraft of “matching operational capabilities” through a purchase agreement. However, the United States rejected this agreement citing logistical concerns that NATO would potentially be drawn into the conflict.

The West seems to be moving away from this position of caution. It now opts to supply Ukraine with offensive weapons, with Germany’s most notable shift in position.

Germany announced that it had approved the transfer of 56 Pbv-501 infantry fighting vehicles (originally BMP-1s) to Ukraine. These Pbv-501s are upgraded versions of older East German BMP-1s, which were acquired by a Czech company (rumored Excalibur military) from Sweden.

A BMP1A1-OST (Unknownso, CC BY-SA 4.0via Wikimedia Commons)

Germany sold these vehicles to Sweden after unification. Older BMP-1s were modified before being sold to Sweden and would become known as BMP-1A1 Osts. Sweden would then rename some 350 newly purchased IFVs as “Pbv-501”. Its engine and transmission would be further improved to extend its life. One of the main improvements was that the launch rail of the Koloma KBM 9K11 Malyutka wire-guided anti-tank missile was deleted. However, the original 2A28 73mm gun turret was retained with the coaxial 7.62mm machine gun on its right side.

The Pbv-501 being refurbished by the Czech Republic for Sweden. Photo: The Army Guide

Terms of sale or transfer of ownership of these vehicles require German approval even if they have already been sold to the Czech Republic-based company. However, there is a catch. Most of the IFVs would not work and would need to be refurbished and repaired so that Ukrainians could use them. It is unclear who will undertake these tasks.

Germany’s approval is a major departure from its rhetoric of months ago, when it offered to donate 5,000 helmets last January, which sparked both outrage and laughter from the international community on social media. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the donation initially left him speechless and thought it was a joke.

“The behavior of the German government leaves me speechless. The Ministry of Defense apparently did not realize that we are faced with fully equipped Russian forces that can unleash a new invasion of Ukraine at any time. What kind of support will Germany send next? Pillows?” said Klitschko.

It is also important to note that the Czech company tried to sell these infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine in 2019, but the Merkel government stopped it before it could pass. Furthermore, it can be recalled that the German government was hesitant to use the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as a choke point for Russia as it would have a severe impact on gas prices in their country, which it eventually stopped due to international pressure.

According to German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, this decision to approve the transfer was due to the fact that Germany had tried to avoid war. However, Putin had forced his hand to deliver offensive weapons to Ukraine due to his actions.

Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle on display at the 2014 Centenary of Military Aviation (Hpeterswald, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons).  Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bushmaster_Protected_Mobility_Vehicle_on_display_at_Centenary_of_Military_Aviation_2014.jpg
Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle on display at the 2014 Centennial of Military Aviation (Hpeterswald, CC BY-SA 3.0via Wikimedia Commons)

Australia is also set to donate a number of Bushmaster troop carriers to Ukraine, as announced by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne. However, the exact number, method and date of delivery are unknown.

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The Biden administration has also said it will work with NATO allies to transfer Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukraine because they already know how to operate those tanks. According to senior US officials, its delivery will be “in days, not weeks”. Transferring these tanks would be easier than transferring Polish MiG-29 fighter jets as there is an abundance of T-72s from Slovakia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. In comparison, there are only a limited number of MiG-29s in these countries, which makes them quite vulnerable if they were to give them to Ukraine.

A Bulgarian T-72M2 MBT on parade (Tourbillon, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons).  Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:T-72M2.jpg
A Bulgarian T-72M2 MBT on parade (Tourbillon, CC BY 3.0via Wikimedia Commons)

Poland is rumored to be the favorite to donate these tanks as it has 400 T-72M1s. They also have an abundance of tank units coming as replacements, as they have already ordered 250 M1A2SEPv3 tanks in February 2022, worth $6 billion in the United States. These units would join the 249 Polish Leopard 2 tanks.

Other countries can also donate a number of their units. However, it has been reported by The Warzone that Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have no more than 100 active units. With the exception of Bulgaria, they also do not have a large reserve to deal with a large loss of tank units. Hungary can also choose to donate its T-72M1s as it has ordered 44 Leopard 2A7s from Germany. However, diplomatic relations between Hungary and Russia have been relatively fluid in recent years, making a transfer unlikely.

With confirmed transfers of 56 Pbv-501 infantry fighting vehicles, Bushmasters, and a pending transfer of T-72s, a new phase of the war could begin. The Western allies are no longer supporting Ukraine only with military assistance programs and defensive weapons, but also with offensive weapons that could help them defend (or even retake) the whole of Donbass, because information suggests that the Russians will focus on liberating the region.

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