German armsmaker Rheinmetall (RHMG.DE) could only deliver repaired Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine in 2024 at the earliest, its chief executive was quoted as saying by Bild newspaper on Sunday.
Germany announced earlier this month that it would provide Ukraine with Marder infantry fighting vehicles to help repel Russian forces. But Kyiv has also requested heavier vehicles such as the Leopards, which would represent a significant step-up in Western support to Ukraine.
Repairing the tanks it has in stock would cost several hundred million euros and the company could not begin doing so before the order was confirmed, Papperger told Bild.
“The vehicles must be completely dismantled and rebuilt,” he added.
Germany has become one of Ukraine’s top military supporters in response to Russia’s invasion after last year, overcoming a taboo that is rooted in its bloody 20th century history on sending weapons to conflict zones.
Still, critics say German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his ruling SPD are too slow, waiting for allies to act first instead of assuming Germany’s responsibility as the Western power closest to Ukraine.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck said earlier this month delivering the heavier Leopard tanks could not be “ruled out”.