Emmanuel Macron is under pressure to send France’s Leclerc heavy tanks to Ukraine after Germany announced its decision to send Leopard IIs on Wednesday.
Mr Macron, the French president, said he welcomed Germany’s announcement, adding that it “built on” France’s promise of armoured vehicles.
Earlier this month, France pledged to send AMX-10 RC armoured surveillance and combat vehicles that are called “light tanks” in French, becoming the first Western country to offer such vehicles.
However, Mr Macron has stopped short of sending the heavier Leclerc tanks, which have a 120mm smooth bore gun, and which Ukraine’s defence ministry called “compact, sporty, easy to park” in a tongue-in-cheek video released last week.
France has previously resisted demands on the grounds that active overseas missions limited the number available to send and that the tanks’ heavy maintenance demands made them unsuitable. The country has 222 Leclerc tanks but a large number are currently under revision.
However, on Sunday, Mr Macron said: “I have asked the defence ministry to work on it. Nothing is excluded.”
The president said three conditions had to be met first – the move must not “lead to escalation”, the tanks must “provide real and effective support” to Ukraine, taking into account the long training period required to use them, and that sending them must not weaken French defences.
French government sources said that while they were confident the first condition had been met, the others were still “under discussion”.
But on Wednesday, Xavier Bertrand, the centre-Right head of the Hauts-de-France region, said Mr Macron must follow in the footsteps of Germany and Britain, which has offered 14 Challenger II tanks.
“This is not a decision to be taken lightly, but it must be taken,” Mr Bertrand told LCI. “We must be by the side of our allies and the Ukrainians… Vladimir Putin must understand that we are resolutely on the side of freedom and we want this to end at all costs.”
Speaking in parliament, Elisabeth Borne said France was assessing whether to send Leclercs to Ukraine, adding: “We are continuing our analysis with the armed forces ministry. The issue of assistance for Ukraine is not limited to this or that weapon.”
Along with the AMX-10RC, France has provided Ukraine with 18 Caesar cannons, six TRF1 cannons, two Crotale air defence systems, rocket launcher units, anti-tank and anti-air weapons, munitions, protective gear, medical equipment and military rations, according to the Elysee.
It also is aiming to train at least 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers as part of EU-wide training efforts.