Embargo bypass: Berlin could buy Swiss Leopards to give to Greece

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Recent reports from Greece reveal talks between Berlin and Athens about exporting roughly 100 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, bypassing the Swiss embargo. Reports suggest a possible trade deal similar to the former Ringtauch agreement, where Greece swapped 40 infantry combat vehicles for 40 Marder 1A3s. 

Photo credit: Ian Tong

Currently, the trade might involve Greek Leopard 1A5 tanks not in service, used as training tools, or for spare parts. Germany may procure 96 Leopard 1s from Swiss company RUAG, refurbish, and partially modernize them to incentivize Greece. 

These tanks, bought by Switzerland from Italy’s army in 2016, haven’t been sold to Ukraine due to neutrality principles, despite not being of Swiss origin. In addition, the German company Global Logistics GmbH requires the transfer of 25 additional Leopard 1 tanks, bought in 2019, currently in Swiss custody.

Every possible way

Photo credit: Twitter

Persistent media scrutiny continues unabated on the enigma that is the Swiss Leopard 1, notwithstanding the prohibition on its transportation to our eastern allies. It becomes glaringly clear that our coalition partners are indefatigably exploring every possible avenue to navigate past these impositions. 

Should Germany’s proposed transaction proceed it could conceivably translate into a gainful scenario for Greece. This benefit owes to the distinct possibility of Greece procuring upgraded versions of Leopard 1A5s, considering not all RUAG-owned Leopards fall into this category. 

Adding substantiation to this speculation is the whisper that these formidable machines could be subjected to additional enhancements. There is talk of bolstering their defensive armor and integrating cutting-edge optical and targeting equipment. Such an operation could prove highly beneficial for Germany, which would be responsible for the overhaul and modernization of Greek and Swiss vehicles. All the while, Switzerland would staunchly maintain its position of ‘neutrality’. 

Photo credit: MoD Russia / Twitter

Still rumors

In this potentially advantageous cycle, Ukraine would stand to procure the vital tanks, thereby enabling the gradual phasing out of a segment of their reserve fleet, subject to requisite preliminary refurbishment. 

Despite these intricate conjectures, the tangible existence of negotiations focusing on such an exchange currently remains elusive. This lack of affirmation arises from Greece’s habitual analysis of any potential military equipment exchanges due to its perennially strained relations with Turkey.

Greece has sent a significant amount of military supplies to Ukraine, including 17,000 155mm artillery shells, over 40 BMP-1Osts, 40,000 AK family automatic rifles, and 5,000 73mm rounds for certain weapons. 

Photo credit: SAF

As suggested by their previous successful weapons transfer, the Greek government is open to providing more support to Ukraine, given they receive sufficient resources in return due to their tense relationship with Turkey. This may be another successful endeavor.

It’s not just the tanks

Spain’s efforts to provide Ukraine with Swiss-made anti-aircraft guns were blocked. Bern confirmed that this would infringe the arms re-export law. The weapons in question are 35 mm anti-aircraft guns. Previously, Denmark and Germany also faced refusal when trying to supply Swiss weapons to Ukraine.

Photo credit: Dzen.ru

EFE reported the Swiss denial of the Spanish proposal. It’s unclear which 35mm anti-aircraft system was refused. BulgarianMilitary.com suggests the weapon is likely a 35 mm Oerlikon GDF twin cannon anti-aircraft gun, produced by the Swiss branch of Rheinmetall Air Defense after taking over Oerlikon Contraves in 2009.

The anti-aircraft gun is managed by the fire control system. It can also operate independently with electronic manual control and a computer-based laser-distance measuring unit.  

The Swiss law

Swiss law bans re-export to countries involved in armed conflict, so Ukraine can’t get Swiss weapons. Any non-Swiss operator of these weapons must get approval from Bern for future re-exports. In 2022, Germany and Denmark’s proposals to send Cheetah and Piranha III battle tanks to Ukraine were rejected by Bern.

Swiss neutrality is globally recognized. However, it was disputed in World War II as the Nazis profited from Swiss optical sights, railways, and banking system.

About Leopard 1

Photo by Krister Sørbø

The Leopard 1 tank is a German-designed main battle tank that was first introduced in the late 1960s. It was developed to replace the aging fleet of tanks used by the German Army and several other NATO countries.

The Leopard 1 is known for its excellent mobility, firepower, and overall performance on the battlefield. It played a significant role during the Cold War and saw action in various conflicts around the world.

Leopard 1 armament

The Leopard 1 tank is equipped with a 105mm smoothbore gun as its primary armament. This gun is capable of firing a wide range of ammunition, including high-explosive rounds, armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot [APFSDS] rounds, and anti-tank-guided missiles.

Photo credit: Twitter

The 105mm gun has a range of approximately 2,000 meters and could penetrate the armor of most contemporary tanks. It provided the Leopard 1 with a formidable offensive capability.

In addition to the 105mm gun, the Leopard 1 tank is also equipped with a coaxial machine gun and a roof-mounted machine gun for anti-aircraft defense. The coaxial machine gun, typically a 7.62mm caliber, is used for engaging infantry and other soft targets. The roof-mounted machine gun, usually a 7.62mm or 12.7mm caliber, provided the tank crew with a means to engage low-flying aircraft or suppress enemy infantry.

Leopard 1 armor

To enhance its survivability on the battlefield, the Leopard 1 tank featured composite armor made up of steel and various layers of specialized materials. This composite armor provided protection against small arms fire, shell fragments, and some anti-tank projectiles.

Photo: Wikipedia

However, it is not as effective against modern anti-tank guided missiles or the latest tank rounds. The tank also has smoke grenade launchers to create a smoke screen for concealment or to obscure the enemy’s line of sight.

Leopard 1 engine

The Leopard 1 tank is powered by a 10-cylinder, multi-fuel engine that provides it with a top speed of around 65 kilometers per hour [40 miles per hour] on roads and a range of approximately 600 kilometers [370 miles].

Its advanced suspension system allowed for excellent cross-country mobility, making it well-suited for various terrains. The tank has a crew of four, including the commander, gunner, loader, and driver. Overall, the Leopard 1 tank is a highly capable and versatile armored vehicle that served its operators well for several decades.


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