Chancellor Scholz and US President Biden have announced that they will supply battle tanks to Ukraine. In Paris, however, a decision is still pending.
French President Emmanuel Macron has still not decided whether Ukraine should also receive French main battle tanks. So far, however, there has been no international criticism of Macron’s position – in contrast to the sometimes violent reactions to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s (SPD) long hesitation. This should not least be due to Macron’s more skilful communication.
“Everyone quickly pointed the finger at Germany,” says Gaspard Schnitzler, a defense expert at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (Iris) in Paris. The procrastinating chancellor has become the target of criticism. However, there are also a number of factual reasons why the delivery of French Leclerc tanks makes less strategic sense.
“It is more efficient to agree on a single system”
“There are only about 220 Leclerc tanks that are operational. Production stopped in 2008,” says Schnitzler. By contrast, there are a total of around 2,000 examples of the German Leopard tanks. “This makes it easier to supply spare parts,” explains the expert. While several European armies use Leopard tanks, the Leclerc tank is used only by France, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Another important point is the training of Ukrainian soldiers. “It’s more efficient to agree on a single system,” says Schnitzler. Therefore, the delivery of a few Leclerc tanks as a symbolic gesture is not very helpful.
However, it is also not true that Ukraine does not want Leclerc tanks at all, as some French politicians have implied. Last week, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense released another curious video praising the advantages of the Leclerc tank with chansons and Sartre quotes. He is about “sporty” and “easy to park”.
France has few Leclerc tanks
In fact, the 56-ton Leclerc is capable of hitting a target four kilometers away while driving. France currently has 13 of its Leclerc tanks deployed in Romania to protect NATO’s eastern flank.
The fact that France itself has so few heavy battle tanks is also due to the fact that the country relies on its nuclear deterrent. “France is equipped,” reminds Macron from time to time – and everyone knows with what.
In addition, the former colonial power has been deployed primarily on the African continent in recent decades. Lighter and faster armored vehicles were needed there, such as the wheeled AMX-10 RC, of which France is now planning to send an undisclosed number to Ukraine.
Delivery of anti-aircraft system likely
Macron boasts that with the announced delivery of these light battle tanks, he “ignited the momentum” that finally persuaded Scholz and US President Joe Biden to make commitments. “Public opinion is left with the impression that France has taken the lead on this issue,” says pollster Emmanuel Rivière.
When asked specifically about a delivery of Leclerc tanks, Macron simply replied: “We’re not ruling anything out”. In fact, however, there are increasing signs that France is more likely to rely on the delivery of the SAMP/T air defense system, which, like the German tanks, has also been given a name from the animal kingdom in the French army, namely Mamba.
French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu met his Italian counterpart Guido Crosetto in Rome on Friday. A corresponding announcement should not be long in coming.