Neutral Swiss to send back tanks to Germany to rebuild stocks

Bern has agreed to sell back Leopard 2 tanks to Germany
Bern has agreed to sell back 25 Leopard 2 tanks to Germany - FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP

Neutral Switzerland said it would sell back some of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to help rebuild stocks depleted by aid to Ukraine.

Germany had asked Switzerland in February to sell back some of the 96 Leopard 2 tanks it has in storage to manufacturer Rheinmetall AG.

To comply with Swiss neutrality laws, Berlin has assured Bern the weapons would not go to Kyiv, but remain in Germany or with a Nato or European Union ally.

“We are very happy and grateful for this decision,” Michel Fluegger, Germany’s ambassador to Switzerland told Swiss TV. “We need these tanks, they will fill gaps with us and our European partners.”

He was speaking after the Swiss parliament on Tuesday approved the decommissioning of 25 Leopard 2 tanks, paving the way for them to be resold to Germany.

Swiss public opinion has been deeply divided on the issue of supplying weapons to Ukraine and the country’s blocking of re-exports has angered some nations.

Requests from Germany, Denmark and Spain to allow Swiss-made weaponry they have previously bought to go to Ukraine have been blocked by Bern citing Swiss neutrality, which prevents weapons being sent directly or indirectly to combatants in a war.

It came as Bulgaria’s parliament approved a decision to send Soviet-era air-defence missiles to Ukraine, in a reversal of its policy not to send weapons to the war-torn country.

The move, which paves the way for ageing S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to be delivered to Kyiv, comes after the Telegraph reported that its Western allies had decided to prioritise air defence for future military donations.

The missiles due to be sent to Ukraine are thought to be over 30 years old and defective, according to Admiral Emil Evtimov, Bulgaria’s chief of defence.

Some of the missiles were dangerous to keep because they had not passed maintenance tests, he said, but Kyiv will be able to use them as spare parts to keep its air defences operational.

“These are defective missiles that... Bulgaria cannot repair, but they can be used for Ukraine’s air defence,” said Hristo Gadjev, the chairman of the parliamentary defence committee.

S-300 surface-to-air missile systems of the Bulgarian Armed Forces
Bulgaria is to send its ageing S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine - Bulgarian Air Force

The debate over the Bulgarian donation was deeply divisive given the country’s historic and cultural ties with Moscow.

Sofia has large stocks of Soviet-era weapons that are used by Ukraine but have been out of production for some time.

But Bulgaria has so far been unwilling to donate arms and ammunition.

In July, Bulgaria announced it would send 100 armoured personnel carriers, in the first sign it would U-turn on its decision not to send arms.

Prior to that announcement, it had mostly provided flak jackets and helmets to Kyiv.

While shoring up Ukraine’s air defences against expected Russian winter attacks is the top priority for Ukraine’s allies, the Netherlands signalled on Wednesday that it wouldn’t be in a position to deliver the first F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv until next year.

Kajsa Ollongren, the country’s defence minister, said Ukrainian pilots, crews and technicians would need to be trained to fly and operate the aircraft before the first jets arrived.

“These things do take time,” she said. “I think the most important thing is the signal we’re sending, not only to Kyiv but also to Moscow and the Kremlin. That is: We are there.”

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