WARSAW, Poland -
Poland will ask Germany for permission to send some of the Polish army's Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Monday, as he pushes Europe to send more military hardware to Kyiv amid complaints that Germany is being too slow in helping to thwart Russia's invasion.
Morawiecki didn't specify when the request will be made. He said that Poland is building a coalition of nations ready to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.
Poland needs the consent of Germany, which builds the tanks, to send them to a non-NATO country.
But even if there is no permission from Germany, Warsaw will make its own decisions, Morawiecki said.
Poland has become a leading advocate in the European Union for giving Ukraine the military aid that could help it prevail over the Kremlin's invading forces 11 months after the war started. The Ukrainian government says that tanks, and especially the Leopards, are vital to Kyiv's war effort.
Previously, Polish officials have indicated that Finland and Denmark were ready to join Warsaw in sending Leopards to Ukraine. The United Kingdom has pledged to send some of its Challenger tanks.
"We will ask (Germany) for permission, but this is a secondary theme," Morawiecki said. "Even if, eventually, we do not get this permission, we -- within this small coalition -- even if Germany is not in this coalition, we will hand over our tanks, together with the others, to Ukraine."
Berlin, though it has provided substantial aid, has been criticized for dragging its feet on providing military hardware.
Morawiecki said talks have also been held "with our partners in Brussels" on the subject, referring to the 27-nation EU bloc.
"Naturally, these are not easy talks, but we will be taking efforts to break this barrier of unwillingness in various countries," he said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told French television channel LCI on Sunday that Poland hasn't formally asked for Berlin's approval to share some of its German-made Leopards, but added "if we were asked, we would not stand in the way."
Regarding Baerbock's comments, Morawiecki said that "exerting pressure makes sense" and that her words are a "spark of hope" that Germany may even take part in the coalition.
Baerbock "sent a different message that offers a spark of hope that not only Germany will no longer block, but maybe finally will offer heavy, modern equipment in support of Ukraine," Morawiecki said.
"We are constantly exerting pressure on the government in Berlin to make its Leopards available," Morawiecki told a news conference in the western city of Poznan.
According to Morawiecki, Germany has "more than 350 active Leopards and about 200 in storage."
Poland wants to send a company of Leopard tanks, which means 14 of them, but they would barely make an impression in a war that involves thousands of tanks. If other countries contribute, Warsaw reckons, the tank detachment could grow to a much bigger brigade size.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the latest developments on sending western Europe tanks to Ukraine "signalled increasing nervousness among members of the alliance."
"All countries that directly or indirectly take part in supplying weapons to Ukraine or increasing its technological level will carry responsibility for that," Peskov said.
Baerbock made positive comments about the possibility of sending tanks to Ukraine. German officials "know how important these tanks are" and "this is why we are discussing this now with our partners," Baerbock said in interview clips posted by LCI.
Ukraine's supporters pledged billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine during a meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday.
International defence leaders discussed Ukraine's urgent request for the Leopard 2 tanks, and the failure to work out an agreement overshadowed the new commitments.
Germany is one of the main donors of weapons to Ukraine, and it ordered a review of its Leopard 2 stocks in preparation for a possible green light. Nonetheless, the government in Berlin has shown caution at each step of increasing its military aid to Ukraine, a hesitancy seen as rooted in its history and political culture.
Germany's tentativeness has drawn criticism, particularly from Poland and the Baltic states, countries on NATO's eastern flank that feel especially threatened by Russia's renewed aggression.
Moscow, in response to the pledges of sophisticated western weapons for Kyiv's military, has stepped up its warnings that escalation risks catastrophe.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Monday reaffirmed Moscow's claim that the western supplies could lead to "unpredictable" consequences.
"We have said on numerous occasions that escalation is the most dangerous path, and the consequences may be unpredictable," Ryabkov said. "Our signals are not listened to, and Russia's adversaries keep raising the stakes."
With both sides' battlefield positions mostly deadlocked during the winter months, the Kremlin's forces have kept up their bombardments of Ukrainian areas.
Kharkiv Gov. Oleh Synyehubov said Monday that Russian forces shelled several towns and villages in the northeastern region over the previous 24 hours, killing a 67-year-old woman and leaving another resident wounded.