Western Tank Helping Destroy Iranian Drones at Center of Ammo Dispute

Germany may have faced criticism for not giving enough military aid to Ukraine to fight Vladimir Putin's forces, but Berlin's supply to Kyiv of hardware that can down Russian drones and missiles has become the center of a different dispute.

The Germans have supplied Ukraine with 30 of the Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (SPAAG), along with 6,000 rounds of ammunition. The hardware has already won praise for their ability to counter Iranian-made drones that Russia is using to hit civilian and military targets.

Gepard tank in Germany
A training exercise with the anti-aircraft gun tank Gepard takes place in August 25, 2022 in Oldenburg in Holstein, Germany. Berlin's plea to Switzerland to allow the re-export of ammunition for the units has been rejected. Steffen Kugler/Getty Images

Also known as the Flakpanzer Gepard, the piece of kit is a mainstay of the air defense of the German Army (Bundeswehr) and other NATO countries, but the ammunition for it is posing a diplomatic problem for Berlin.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht asked Switzerland to re-export 12,400 rounds of Swiss-made ammunition for the Gepard to Ukraine, but Bern has refused because doing so would violate its neutrality. Berlin made an earlier request in June.

The 35mm shells had been originally supplied by Swiss companies to the German army decades ago on the condition that they could not be re-exported without Swiss approval.

Swiss Economy Minister Guy Parmelin said that, under the principle of equal treatment in neutrality law, Bern was unable to agree to a request "for the transfer of war material of Swiss origin to Ukraine as long as the latter is involved in an international armed conflict."

Zev Faintuch, senior intelligence analyst at the security firm Global Guardian, told Newsweek that the Gepard is one of the most effective weapons Ukraine has against the Iranian-supplied Shahed-136 loitering munitions, also known as kamikaze drones.

"The Gepard or other anti-aircraft guns of the like help bring down the cost of intercepting the Iranian-made drones, muting some of the asymmetric benefit that Russia currently enjoys," Faintuch said.

"The 35x228 mm ammunition for this platform is difficult to source, especially after the revelation that the Norwegian-supplied ammo didn't work with the Gepard," he said. However, Faintuch added that the release of Swiss ammunition to Ukraine "would be helpful but is not critical."

In September, Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Germany of ignoring Kyiv's pleas for military hardware.

But, later that month, Ukraine first used the Gepards, according to a video shared by the "Ukraine Weapons Tracker" Twitter account. An anti-aircraft gun is believed to have destroyed a Russian missile before it hit a Kyiv power plant on October 18.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian serviceman told the German newspaper Bild on Thursday that he had used the Gepard to destroy two Russian cruise missiles and a number of drones.

Ulrike Franke, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told Newsweek that the dispute was not about European unity in helping Kyiv fight Russian aggression, but "about Swiss neutrality."

Switzerland, which is not in the EU, has adopted the European Union's sanctions against Russia, following the invasion.

"The Swiss do realize that the world is getting more dangerous, and they will need to work together more with others," Franke said, "but they do not want to give up neutrality, and arming a conflict party to them is contrary to being neutral."

Newsweek has contacted the Swiss foreign ministry for comment.