While Belgium expresses its solidarity with Ukraine and sends whatever resources it can to Kyiv, at a time when many countries are scrambling to send tanks, including Leopards, Abrams, and Leclercs to Kiev, Brussels finds that it has no tanks to give.
A couple of years ago, in 2014, Brussels had sold dozens of Leopard tanks to Freddy Versluis, an arms dealer, at 15,000 euros per tank. While the tanks continue to remain at their same deplorable condition at a warehouse in Tournai, their owner has changed.
Brussels now wishes to re-purchase the tanks and send them to Ukraine.
Verslius, aims to sell them for 500,000 Euros each. Apart from this expense, the tanks will require upgrades, and by all accounts, the arms dealer will stand to make a hefty profit.
“New chains, the engine to be checked, new shock absorbers, a new fire protection system. 500,000 euros. What do you want, to get them for free,” said Verslius, a Belgian businessman.
Belgium’s tank reserves have been completely depleted. According to Ludivine Dedonder, the European country’s defence minister, the stockpile of tanks was almost depleted when she took office.
“So we have no more tanks to give to Ukraine,” she said.
According Verslius, transferring the tanks to Ukraine is next to impossible given their technical and operational conditions.
“I wouldn’t advise anyone to simply send it to Ukraine,” he said.
According to market estimates, the current price of such a tank, second hand after repair, is around 500,000 euros.
Verslius opined that the price tag of 500,000 euros per tank is not all that much. At this price point they are not expensive.
Incidentally, Belgium is not the only country where Leopard tanks are poorly maintained. While Spain also had good intentions to send Leopards to Ukraine as early as the summer of 2022, the ones selected for re-export were in such deplorable condition that Kyiv’s envoy refused to accept them, despite the EU’s willingness to fund their repair.
In recent years, Belgium has reduced its military budget.
“But within the budgetary context at this point, we made a choice”.
Belgium has however not given up on tanks. Already defense resources have been significantly slashed, and tanks are heavily reliant on logistics. They are the tip of the iceberg since they also need armoured infantry vehicles, armoured engineering vehicles, and artillery”. These are not the opinion of defense analysts but those of Lieutenant General Marc Thies, the Belgian Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff.
According to Thies, the effort to maintain the tanks are great; given limited finances, it is a struggle to maintain the army’s operational capability.
General Thies has also claimed that the conflict in Ukraine is not over.
“This conflict will continue for a long time and will require sustained efforts from the entire Western bloc.”
Given these states of affairs, Belgium has officially announced that “for the time being it will not supply tanks to Ukraine”.
Nevertheless, Brussels has confirmed that talks with Verslius are ongoing. It is in the realm of possibility that an agreement can be reached and that Belgium could eventually provide for a delayed shipment of Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
While there is much delay and uncertainty on the supply of tanks to Ukraine, Belgium will almost certainly continue to supply ammunition and transport trucks to the Ukrainian army.