BERLIN — After weeks of pressure from allies, Germany has agreed to allow its state-of-the-art Leopard 2 tanks to be donated to Ukraine, in a marked shift from its leaders' reluctance to significantly increase military support to help the country fight Russia.

Steffen Hebestreit, a spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, confirmed to NPR that Germany will send a company of 14 tanks, and that Scholz announced the decision during a cabinet meeting Wednesday morning. He called it the result of "intense consultations" with Berlin's closest European and international partners.

Ukrainian crews will soon begin training on the battle tanks in Germany soon, Hebestreit said. Germany will also authorize other countries that have their own stocks of Leopard 2 tanks to export them to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius emerged from a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg indicating Germany was open to other countries with Leopard tanks training Ukrainian troops on how to operate them. Then Poland officially requested that the German government issue Warsaw an export license for its Leopard battle tanks.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö has also indicated his country is prepared to supply Kyiv with the tanks.

German weapons companies manufacture the Leopard 2, and the German government legally has the final say over how and where the tanks are used, even when other countries offer to export them.

Scholz had consistently refused to give the go-ahead for his country or others to export Leopard tanks to Ukraine, saying Western tanks should only be supplied to Kyiv if there is agreement among key allies, particularly the United States.

U.S. officials had been pressing Germany to send Leopard tanks but previously said the Biden administration was not sending the American-made tanks because of challenges with training and maintenance.

Berlin is also hesitant to supply arms that would enable Kyiv to carry out attacks on Russian soil or that could potentially draw NATO into a broader conflict with Moscow. Scholz has asserted throughout the nearly 11-month Russian invasion of Ukraine that Germany is already one of Ukraine's biggest financial supporters.

"Germany will not go it alone, Germany will act together with its allies and especially with our trans-Atlantic partner, the U.S. Anything else would be irresponsible in such a dangerous situation," the chancellor said at an event sponsored by his center-left Social Democratic Party on Jan. 9 in Berlin.

For months, public opinion in Germany has backed Scholz's refusal to send heavy weaponry to Ukraine. But according to a Forsa survey last week, German public support for supplying battle tanks to Ukraine grew to its highest level ever: 46% of those polled are in favor of delivering Leopard tanks and the same percentage is against it. [Copyright 2023 NPR]