Just before midnight the Russian tank crossed the border from Poland into Germany. At dawn on Friday, it arrived in Berlin.
Exactly one year after Russia invaded Ukraine, the battered and rusting T-72B tank was parked on Friday morning outside the Russian Federation embassy in the German capital.
Originating with a Mongolian unit, the bullet-ridden and burnt-out tank appears to have been destroyed by a mine near the capital Bucha in the battle for the Ukrainian capital at the end of March.
Nearly seven metres long and weighing 44 tonnes, the tank was transported on a trailer from Kyiv by the Berlin Story museum.
“With this we’re putting the terrorists’ wreckage before their own door,” said Mr Wieland Giebel, museum director and co-initiator of the project. “This tank is a way of showing our protest at Russia’s attack and our solidarity with Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany Oleksiy Makeiev has welcomed the tank’s arrival as “an important political symbol of Russia’s war crimes but also a symbol of the unbreakable spirit of the Ukrainian people in their battle for freedom”.
The tank’s arrival comes after months of administrative and legal battles with Berlin’s Mitte district. It presented a series of objections to the project, on planning and artistic grounds, before a city court ordered it to allow the tank be parked before the Stalin-era embassy complex.
A year after Berliners gathered here in spontaneous protest at the invasion, a year of soul-searching debate over the war has seen growing divisions over Berlin’s growing military equipment deliveries to Ukraine. Trying to keep both sides happy has proven a difficult task for Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“To those who are sceptical I say: you cannot leave a country alone when it has been brutally attacked,” said Mr Scholz to Thursday’s Bild tabloid.
Earlier this month, after months of wrangling, he agreed to send 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, on top of 40 armed transport vehicles as well as ammunition, missiles and air-defence systems. Germany has also agreed to train at least 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers on missile defence systems and vehicles.
But recent surveys indicate the German population is split almost evenly on tank and arms deliveries, with 72 per cent worried the war will spread beyond Ukraine. Polls show lingering east-west Cold War divisions, too, with easterners noticeably more sceptical of Germany joining US and Nato in pushing back against Russia.
More than 600,000 people have already signed an online petition, Manifesto for Peace, which warns that further militarisation of the conflict will leave Ukraine a “depopulated, destroyed country”.
“The Ukrainian population, brutally attacked by Russia, need our solidarity – but what kind of solidarity?” asks the petition, demanding Berlin step up efforts for diplomatic negotiations. “Negotiating does not mean surrendering. Negotiating means making compromises on both sides, with the aim of preventing hundreds of thousands more deaths and worse. That’s what half of the German population thinks. It’s time to listen to us!”
Co-initiator of the petition is politician Sahra Wagenknecht from the hard left wing of the opposition Linke party. A divisive figure in German politics, she told a television talkshow this week that that US president Joe Biden’s Warsaw speech was “just as dangerous” as Putin’s Moscow address hours earlier.
“They are just winding each other up,” she said.
Her petition has divided her party still further and seen her dubbed a “handmaid of Putin” by Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Andrj Melnyk, a former ambassador to Berlin.
While Germany’s political centre has held together, backing Ukraine with humanitarian and military support, political analysts note the country’s left and right political fringes are growing closer together in so-called a “horseshoe effect”.
Among the petition’s first signatories were leaders of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
A short distance away at the Russian tank wreck, co-organiser Wieland Giebel says the weekend demonstration is a cynical exercise in apathy masked as virtue-signalling.
“I simply cannot comprehend how anyone thinks Ukraine should simply submit to a warmonger,” he said. “In the end I think people say they are for peace but just want their comfortable life and have nothing to do with this war.”