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Allies back Ukraine with promises of more weapons; but there is no sign of a tank agreement between the US and Germany

Allies back Ukraine with promises of more weapons; but there is no sign of a tank agreement between the US and Germany

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  • German Leopard tanks are considered the most suitable for Ukraine
  • All eyes are on Germany when defense leaders meet on Friday
  • Austin in Germany to meet with the new Secretary of Defense
  • Wagner’s Russian mercenaries claim to have captured 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 also send German-made tanks remained unanswered, with Berlin yet to signal whether it would lift the veto.

Fearing that winter would give Russian forces time to regroup and launch a major attack, Ukraine is insisting on Leopard battle tanks, which are held by a number of NATO nations but whose transfer to Ukraine requires Germany’s approval.

A German government source said Berlin would withdraw its objections if Washington sent its own Abrams tanks.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, is reluctant to send weapons that could be seen as provoking Moscow. Many of Berlin’s Western allies say the concern is misplaced because Russia is already fully committed to the war.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and new German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius met in Berlin, but there was no word of any 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 later Thursday about the possibility of German approval: “I am moderately skeptical, moderately pessimistic, because the Germans defend themselves from this like the devil defends itself from holy water.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has issued a thinly veiled criticism of Germany for its position.

“I am strong in Europe, I will help if someone else outside Europe also helps. It seems to me that this is not a very right strategy,” he said.

The Ramstein meeting is being presented as a chance for the West to give Ukraine what it needs to defeat Russia in 2023 and a group of 11 NATO countries already announced armored vehicles and anti-aircraft defense.

But Kyiv says it needs heavy tanks to repel Russian attacks and reclaim occupied lands.

“We don’t have time, the world doesn’t have that time,” wrote Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, on Telegram on Thursday.

“We are paying for the slowness with the lives of our Ukrainian people. It shouldn’t be like this.

Dutch Minister of Defense Kaysa Olongren said she was confident a solution would be found to supply Ukraine with advanced battle tanks, but that the Netherlands, which is leasing Leopard 2 tanks from Germany, would need a green light from Berlin before deciding whether to contribute.

A German government source said Berlin had not yet received a request from any country for permission to re-export the tanks. Leopard 2 tanks – the workhorse of militaries across Europe and which Germany produced by the thousands during the Cold War – are the only suitable option available in large enough numbers according to some Western allies.

US officials say they have no plans yet to send the Abrams, which is believed to be using too much fuel for Kyiv’s strained logistics system, to deliver to the front.

“WAR OF DESTRUCTION”

Both Pistorius and Austin spoke of the importance of supporting Ukraine before their meeting, but neither directly touched on the tank issue.

At a ceremony after being sworn in as a minister, Pistorius said: “Times are not normal, we have a war raging in Europe. Russia is waging a brutal war of destruction against a sovereign state, against Ukraine.”

Austin described Germany as one of Washington’s closest allies and thanked it for its support for Ukraine so far.

Poland and Finland have already said they will send Leopards if Germany lifts its veto. In a sign of growing frustration, Poland suggested it could do so even if Germany tried 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 who was president from 2008-2012 when Putin took a break to act as prime minister, made one of the clearest in Moscow threats to use nuclear weapons if he loses in Ukraine.

“The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war can trigger a nuclear war,” Medvedev said. “Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends.

There are signs of friction in Germany’s ruling coalition. Scholz’s deputy, Robert Habeck, of his coalition partners the Greens, said last week that Germany would not prevent other countries from sending Leopards to Ukraine.

Tying Leopards to US Abrams tanks could shift the burden to Washington. Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said Wednesday Abrams tanks they were unlikely to be included in Washington’s next massive $2 billion military aid package, which will be spearheaded by Stryker and Bradley armored vehicles.

“The Abrams tank is a very complex piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train. It has a jet engine.”

Both Ukraine and Russia relied heavily on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which were destroyed by the hundreds in 11 months of fighting. Kyiv says the better-armed and protected Western tanks will give its troops the mobile firepower to drive out Russian troops in decisive battles.

After major Ukrainian gains in the second half of 2022, the frontlines have been largely frozen over the past two months, with neither side making major gains despite heavy casualties in the intense trench warfare.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the private Russian mercenary unit Wagner, which took a leading role in the fighting near the eastern city of Bakhmut, claimed on Thursday his forces captured the village of Klishchievka on the outskirts of Bakhmut. Earlier, Kyiv denied that the settlement had fallen.

Reuters could not confirm the situation there.

Reporting from the Reuters bureaus Writing by Peter Graf and Alexandra Hudson Editing by Angus McSwan and Frances Carey

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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