- Germany’s Panther tanks are considered more suitable for Ukraine
- All eyes are on Germany as defense chiefs meet on Friday
- Austin in Germany to meet new defense minister
- Russian Wagner mercenaries claim to capture the village
KYIV/BERLIN, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Western allies pledged billions of dollars in new weapons to Ukraine on Thursday, but the question of whether they would send German-made tanks remained unanswered. Preventative.
Fearing that Russian forces could regroup and launch a major offensive in the winter, Ukraine is pressing for Panther battle tanks, which are under the control of an array of NATO countries, but transfer to Ukraine requires Germany’s approval.
A German government source said Berlin would lift its objections if Washington sent its own Abrams tanks.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a social democrat, was reluctant to send weapons that might be seen as provoking Moscow. Many of Berlin’s Western allies say the concern is misplaced, with Russia already fully engaged in the war.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and new German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius met in Berlin, but there was no progress ahead of a meeting of dozens of allies on Friday at Ramstein, Washington’s main European air base.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Thursday of the possibility of German approval, “I am moderately skeptical, moderately pessimistic, because the Germans defend themselves against this, a devil defends himself against holy water.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky drew thinly veiled criticism for Germany’s stance.
“I am powerful in Europe, and if someone else outside of Europe helps me, I will help. It seems to me that this is not a very sound strategy,” he said.
The Ramstein meeting is seen as an opportunity for the West to give Ukraine what it needs to defeat Russia in 2023 and a group of 11 NATO nations have already announced armored vehicles and air defenses.
But Kiev says heavy tanks are needed to repel Russian attacks and recapture occupied ground.
“We don’t have time, the world doesn’t have this time,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, wrote in Telegram on Thursday.
“We are paying for the stagnation of the lives of our Ukrainian people, which should not be the case.”
Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said he hoped a solution could be found to supply modern battle tanks to Ukraine, but the Netherlands, which is leasing the Leopard 2 tanks from Germany, needed a green light from Berlin before deciding whether to contribute.
A German government source said Berlin had not received a request from any country for permission to re-export the tanks. The Leopard 2 tanks — the workhorses of armies across Europe and built by thousands by Germany during the Cold War — are, according to some Western allies, the only viable option available in sufficient numbers.
U.S. officials say there are no plans yet to send the Abrams, which is considered too fuel intensive for Kiev’s strained logistics system to supply the front.
‘War of Destruction’
Both Pistorius and Austin spoke about the importance of supporting Ukraine ahead of their meeting, but did not address the tank issue directly.
Speaking at a ceremony after being sworn in as minister, Pistorius said: “These are not normal times, Europe is at war. Russia is waging a brutal war of destruction against a sovereign country, Ukraine.”
Austin described Germany as one of Washington’s closest allies and thanked Ukraine for its support so far.
Poland and Finland have already said they will send the Panthers if Germany lifts its veto. In a sign of growing desperation, Poland suggested that Germany might try to block it.
Russia has responded to the prospect of more weapons for Kyiv with threats of escalation. Dmitry Medvedev, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, stood as president from 2008-2012, when Putin took a break to act as prime minister, one of Moscow’s clearest threats to use nuclear weapons if he lost Ukraine.
“A nuclear defeat in a conventional war could trigger a nuclear war,” Medvedev said. “Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends.”
There were signs of friction within Germany’s ruling coalition. Scholz’s deputy, Robert Habeck, of his coalition partners, The Greens, said just last week that Germany would not prevent other countries from sending Leopards to Ukraine.
Tying Leopards to US Abrams tanks would shift Washington’s responsibility. Colin Kall, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said Wednesday that Abrams tanks are unlikely to be included in Washington’s next massive $2 billion military aid package.
“The Abrams tank is a very complex piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s difficult to train. It has a jet engine.”
Both Ukraine and Russia rely primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which were destroyed by the hundreds during the 11-month conflict. Better-armed and protected Western tanks will give its troops the mobile firepower to repel Russian troops in decisive battles, says Cave.
After major Ukrainian gains in the second half of 2022, the frontline has largely frozen over the past two months, with neither side making major gains despite heavy casualties in intense trench warfare.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner, the private Russian mercenary force that has played a leading role in fighting near the eastern city of Bagmut, said Thursday that his forces had captured the village of Klishchivka on the outskirts of Bagmut. Kyiv has previously denied that the settlement collapsed.
Reuters could not confirm the situation there.
Reporting by Reuters Bureaus Writing by Peter Graf and Alexandra Hudson Editing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry
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