German arms-maker Rheinmetall wants to buy some of Switzerland’s old Leopard 2 tanks to compensate for those sent to Ukraine, a spokesperson for the Swiss defense ministry said.
Switzerland, which currently stores 96 unused Leopard 2 tanks, would have to formally decommission the tanks first — a decision which has to be taken by the Swiss parliament, said Lorenz Frischknecht, spokesperson for the Swiss Department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS).
The German proposal would not breach Switzerland’s long-standing commitment to neutrality. (The Alpine nation has been recognized in international law as an unaligned state since 1815.)
If the German-made tanks are decommissioned, “it would be in principle possible, from the Armed Forces point of view, to give up a limited number of battle tanks,” Frischknecht said — as long as the country keeps enough tanks for six battalions, to meet its own military needs.
In their request sent to the Swiss government on February 23, the German authorities have assured the tanks would not be transferred to Ukraine, but would instead be sent to Germany “or a NATO or EU partner” to “close the gaps” created by the shipments of tanks to Ukraine.
In January, Kyiv’s European allies pledged to send two battalions of Leopard 2 tanks — or about 80 vehicles — to Ukraine, including 14 from Germany, as Ukraine braces for a major spring offensive from Russia.
The German government has also approved the sale of 88 old Leopard 1 tanks by private arms manufacturer Rheinmetall to Ukraine.
Switzerland has refused to provide military assistance to Ukraine — notably by blocking exports of Swiss-made weapons and ammunition to the war-ravaged country — arguing it violated the country’s policy of neutrality.
In principle, selling decommissioned tanks to a country not at war like Germany would not breach Swiss neutrality.
But the Swiss authorities refused a similar request from Poland last June, arguing the tanks would need to be decommissioned by the Federal Assembly first.
Discussions are “currently underway” in the Swiss parliament to do so, the defense ministry spokesperson said.