BERLIN, April 26 (Reuters) - Germany announced on Tuesday (Apr 26) its first delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine to help it fend off Russian attacks, after weeks of pressure at home and abroad to do so amid confusion over its stance.

German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said the government, which is also racing to reduce its heavy reliance on imported Russian energy, had approved the delivery of Gepard tanks equipped with anti-aircraft guns from the stocks of company KMW on Monday.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said he welcomed Germany's decision to "send 50 Cheetah systems".

"Those systems will provide real capability for Ukraine," he said after talks with Lambrecht and dozens of their counterparts at the US Ramstein Air Base in western Germany.

Marcel Dirsus, non-resident fellow at Kiel University's Institute for Security Policy, said the real significance of Germany's decision lay not in the difference the Gepards would make on the battlefield but in the signal it sends.

"Europe’s largest economy is getting serious about supporting Ukraine, and more help is coming," he said.

Critics, including Ukraine's ambassador to Germany, have accused Berlin of dragging its heels on giving heavy weapons to Ukraine and on other measures that could help Kyiv repel Russian forces, such as an embargo on Russian energy imports.

They say Berlin is not showing the leadership expected of a major power and that its hesitations - amid concerns over the economic impact in Germany of barring supplies of Russian gas - are costing Ukrainian lives.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has countered that the armed forces, the Bundeswehr, are already at the limit of what they can spare, while the weaponry that industry could provide lacks ammunition and needs upgrading.