(Reuters) – The Swiss government on Wednesday backed the decommissioning of 25 advanced Leopard 2 battle tanks with a view to selling them back to Germany, a step that could allow Western countries to send more military aid to Ukraine.
Germany had in February asked Switzerland to sell some of the tanks back to arms maker Rheinmetall, which would allow the company to backfill gaps in the armaments of European Union and NATO members.
Germany, Poland, Portugal, Finland and Sweden are among countries sending Leopard tanks to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian attack, creating gaps in their own arsenals.
The issue is sensitive for the Swiss authorities. Under its neutrality laws and a separate arms embargo, Switzerland is prohibited from sending weapons directly to Ukraine.
The Swiss military currently has 134 Leopard 2 tanks in service and a further 96 in storage.
Switzerland’s own military needs would remain covered, a government statement said. The Swiss parliament would now have to decide on the issue, it added.
Bern has previously blocked requests from Germany, Spain and Denmark to allow Swiss-made munitions they have previously bought to be re-exported to Ukraine.
But the issue is becoming increasingly divisive in Switzerland, with a pro-Ukraine shift in the public and political mood putting pressure on the government to end a ban on exports of Swiss weapons to war zones.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Friederike Heine and Alex Richardson)
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