- German Leopard tanks are the most suitable for Ukraine
- All eyes will be on Germany when the defense chiefs meet on Friday
- Austin in Germany, to meet the new Minister of Defense
- Wagner’s Russian mercenaries claim to have captured a village
Kyiv/BERLIN (Reuters) – The United States and Germany attempted on Thursday to resolve a standoff that has so far prevented the West from sending heavy tanks into Ukraine, as they pleaded with Kyiv for weapons to help turn the tide. against the Russian forces.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Germany’s new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius spoke in Berlin just hours after Pistorius was sworn in.
But there was no word on whether they had resolved the differences that could let Berlin derail Western plans to send Kyiv heavy tanks when dozens of allies gather on Friday at Ramstein, Washington’s main European air base.
Billions of dollars in military aid are expected to be pledged at the Rammstein meeting, billed as an opportunity for the West to give Ukraine what it needs to defeat Russia in 2023.
Countries such as Canada, the Netherlands and Sweden have already announced armored vehicles and air defenses.
But the big question is whether the meeting will bring in the heavy tanks, which Kyiv says it needs to fend off Russian attacks and retake occupied territory.
“We don’t have time, the world doesn’t have this time,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, wrote on messaging app Telegram on Thursday.
“The issue of tanks for Ukraine must be closed as soon as possible,” he said. “We are paying the price for slowness with the lives of our Ukrainian people. This should not be the case.”
Berlin has so far prevented the Allies from sending its Leopard 2 tanks, the backbone of armies across Europe. Washington and many Western allies say the Panthers — which Germany made in the thousands during the Cold War and exported to its allies — are the only viable option available in large enough numbers.
A German government source said Berlin would lift its objections if Washington sent its own Abrams tanks. But U.S. officials say they have no plans yet to send the Abrams, which are powered by powerful turboprop engines seen as using too much fuel for Kyiv’s overstretched logistics system to supply at the front.
Not normal times
Both Pistorius and Austin spoke about the importance of supporting Ukraine before their meeting, but neither addressed the tank issue directly.
“These are not normal times,” Pistorius said in a ceremony after being sworn in. “We have a war raging in Europe. Russia is waging a brutal war of annihilation on a sovereign country, on Ukraine.”
Austin called Germany one of Washington’s closest allies and thanked it for its support of Ukraine thus far.
Poland and Finland have already said they will send the Panthers if Germany lifts its veto. In a sign of growing frustration, Poland indicated that it might do so even if Germany tried to stop it.
“Consent is of secondary importance here. Either we get this approval quickly or we will do what is required ourselves,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told private broadcaster Polsat News late Wednesday.
Russia responded to the prospect of sending more weapons to Kyiv with threats of escalation. Dmitry Medvedev, an ally of Vladimir Putin who held the post of president from 2008 to 2012 when Putin stopped serving as prime minister, has been one of the clearest of Moscow’s threats to use nuclear weapons if it loses in Ukraine.
Medvedev said: “The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war could lead to a nuclear war.” “The nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depended.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, was reluctant to send weapons seen as a provocation to Moscow. Many of Berlin’s western allies say the concern is misplaced, as Russia is already committed to war.
There were signs of friction within the ruling coalition in Germany. Schulz’s deputy, Robert Habeck, of his partners in the Green coalition, said just last week that Germany would not stand in the way of other countries sending Panthers to Ukraine.
Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, of the third party in the coalition, the centrist Free Democrats, said Schulz should be careful to avoid dividing Europe.
“This can be done with a clear message to Vladimir Putin. Anyone who wants to destroy our system will have to deal with all of us democrats,” she said.
Attaching the Panthers to the US Abrams tanks could shift responsibility to Washington. Colin Kahl, a senior policy adviser at the Pentagon, said on Wednesday that Abrams tanks are unlikely to be included in Washington’s massive upcoming $2 billion military aid package, which will be topped by Stryker and Bradley armored vehicles.
“The Abrams tank is a very complex piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train with. It has a turbojet.”
Ukraine and Russia relied primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which were destroyed by the hundreds during 11 months of fighting. Kyiv says that the best-armed and protected Western tanks will give its forces mobile firepower to expel Russian forces in decisive battles.
After significant Ukrainian gains in the second half of 2022, the front lines have been largely frozen over the past two months, with neither side making significant gains despite heavy losses in intense trench warfare.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, commander of the Russian special mercenary force Wagner that took a leading role in the fighting near the eastern city of Bakhmut, claimed on Thursday that his forces had captured the village of Klishchevka on the outskirts of Bakhmut. Kyiv has previously denied the settlement’s fall. Reuters could not confirm the situation there.
Reporting by Reuters offices. Written by Peter Graf. Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan
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