- German Leopard tanks are the most suitable for Ukraine
- All eyes will be on Germany when the defense chiefs meet on Friday
- The United States will provide 125 million dollars to Ukraine to support energy systems
- A government minister among the dead in the Ukraine helicopter crash
Kyiv/BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will send German-made tanks to Ukraine as long as the United States agrees to do the same, a government source in Berlin told Reuters, as NATO partners have remained out of step on how best to arm. Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Ukraine has called for the acquisition of modern Western weapons, especially heavy battle tanks, so that it can regain momentum after some successes on the battlefield in the second half of 2022 against the Russian forces that invaded last February.
Berlin has veto power over any decision to export its Leopard tanks, which NATO armies are sending across Europe and defense experts say are best suited to Ukraine.
A German government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had stressed several times in recent days, behind closed doors, the requirement to send American tanks to Ukraine.
When asked about Germany’s position, US President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman, Karen Jean-Pierre, said: “The president believes that each country should make its own sovereign decisions about security assistance steps and what types of equipment they can provide to Ukraine.”
NATO allies sought to avoid the danger of appearing directly in confrontation with Russia and refrained from sending their most powerful weapons to Ukraine.
According to a US official, the Biden administration is set to approve a new aid package for Ukraine, worth more than $2 billion, that will likely include Stryker armored vehicles for Kiev, but not M1 Abram tanks.
The package could be announced as early as Friday during a meeting of senior defense officials from dozens of countries at the US Air Force Base Ramstein in Germany.
Colin Kahl, a senior Pentagon policy advisor who just returned from a trip to Ukraine, said the Pentagon is still not ready to fulfill Kyiv’s order for M1 Abrams tanks.
“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Cale said. “The Abrams tank is a very complex piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train with. It has a turbojet.”
New German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius will host US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday.
American officials said that Austin would pressure Pistorius at the meeting to allow the transfer of German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, as many NATO countries had them and were willing to deliver them quickly.
pressure on Germany
Attention at Friday’s meeting will be on Germany, which has said Western tanks should only be supplied to Ukraine if there is an agreement between Kyiv’s main allies.
Britain increased pressure on Berlin this month by becoming the first Western country to send tanks to Ukraine, pledging to swarm its rivals. Poland and Finland said they would send Leopard tanks if Germany agreed to them.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in a speech via video link to the Davos forum on Wednesday, urged Western allies to supply his country before Russia launches its next missile and ground offensives.
Zelensky said: “The supply of air defense systems to Ukraine must outweigh the upcoming Russian missile attacks.” Western tank supplies should outweigh another Russian tank invasion.
The German Leopard 2 is considered one of the best tanks in the West. Weighing over 60 tons (60,000 kg), it has a 120 mm smoothbore gun and can hit targets at a distance of five kilometers (three miles).
Ukraine, which has relied mainly on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants, says the new tanks will give its forces mobile firepower to push back Russian forces in decisive battles.
Difficult situation in the front line
The fighting has focused on southern and eastern Ukraine after an initial Russian offensive from the north aimed at seizing Kyiv was thwarted during the first months of an invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin described as a “special military operation”.
“The situation on the front line is still difficult, as Donbass was the epicenter of the fiercest principled battles,” Zelensky said in a video address on Wednesday. “We are witnessing a gradual increase in the number of shelling and attempts to carry out offensive actions by the invaders.”
Donbass, which consists of Luhansk and Donetsk, is the heart of industry in eastern Ukraine. Russian forces have been pressing for months to capture the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk with limited success, and have turned their attention to the smaller nearby town of Soledar in recent weeks.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said in a YouTube video that Ukrainian army units are still in Solidar, with heavy fighting in the western provinces despite claims by Russia more than a week ago that it now controls the city.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
Separately, a helicopter crashed in fog near a nursery outside Kyiv on Wednesday, killing 14 people, including Ukraine’s interior minister, and a child.
Ukrainian officials have not indicated that any action on the part of Russia was responsible for the downing of the helicopter.
Zelensky said in a Telegram that the crash was a “terrible tragedy” and the “pain is indescribable”, and in his video address at night, he said the crash had asked the intelligence service of the ISI to investigate the cause.
(a) Reporting by Andreas Reinke in the Berlin and Reuters offices. Written by Grant McCall and Himani Sarkar; Editing by Howard Goller and Simon Cameron Moore
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