Germany pledges quick decision on first heavy arms delivery to Ukraine

BERLIN, April 25 (Reuters) - Germany will decide soon on whether to approve the delivery of 100 old Marder infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, a government spokesperson said on Monday, in what would be the first German heavy weapons shipment to Ukraine.

German defence company Rheinmetall (RHMG.DE) has requested approval to export the vehicles to Ukraine, a defence source told Reuters on Monday, aiming to restore them over the coming months before shipping them.

Rheinmetall has also requested approval to export 88 old Leopard 1A5 tanks to Ukraine, German newspaper Die Welt reported, citing documents. read more

Rheinmetall's move is set to force Chancellor Olaf Scholz to take a clear position on whether heavy weapons can be sent directly from Germany to Ukraine because the deals require approval from the national security council, which is chaired by Scholz.

A Rheinmetall spokesperson declined to comment.

Scholz is facing growing criticism at home and abroad for his reluctance to deliver heavy weapons such as tanks and howitzers to help Ukraine to repel Russian attacks. read more

The German government spokesperson did not give a time frame for when a decision on the Marder deal would be taken.

Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht wrote in a letter to the ruling coalition last week that export requests to Ukraine "will be checked with absolute priority. After coordination in the cabinet, they will be decided the same day as a general rule."

On their first visit to Ukraine since Russia invaded two months ago, the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defence on Sunday pledged additional military aid to Kyiv, including advanced weapons. read more

Ukrainian pleas for heavy weapons have intensified since Moscow shifted its offensive to the eastern region of Donbas, a territory seen as better suited for tank battles than the areas around Kyiv, where much of the fighting has taken place so far.

Moscow describes its actions in Ukraine, now entering a third month, as a "special military operation".

Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Miranda Murray, Rachel More, Alexander Ratz, Sarah Marsh and Anneli Palmen; Editing by David Goodman, Edmund Blair and Marguerita Choy

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