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Ukraine pushes for tanks as recalcitrant Germany asks new minister to decide

  • New German Defense Minister named Boris Pistorius
  • A wary Berlin holding back tanks from other European allies
  • Dnipro missile strike death toll rises to 44

DNIPRO, Ukraine/KYIV, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Ukraine moved closer on Tuesday in its bid to win a fleet of modern main battle tanks it hopes could turn the tide of the war with Russia , after Germany, the great recalcitrant of the West, declared this would be the first item on the agenda of its new defense minister.

In the central city of Dnipro, authorities have called for an end to the search for survivors in the ruins of a building destroyed in Russian missile attacks on Saturday.

Forty-four people were killed and 20 are still missing in the attack, the deadliest for civilians in a three-month Russian missile bombing campaign, according to Ukrainian officials. Seventy-nine people were injured and 39 escaped from the rubble.

Nearly 11 months after the invasion of Russia, Kyiv said a fleet of Western main battle tanks would give its troops the mobile firepower to hunt Russian troops in decisive battles in 2023.

The German-made Leopard battle tanks, the workhorse of armies across Europe, cannot be delivered without permission from Berlin, which has so far opposed it.

As Western allies meet at a US airbase in Germany on Friday to pledge military support for Ukraine, Berlin is under intense pressure to drop its objections this week.

The decision rests with the office of new German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, appointed on Tuesday to replace Christine Lambrecht, who resigned after critical comments deemed insensitive.

“When the person, when the Minister of Defense, is declared, it is the first question to be concretely decided,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told Deutschlandfunk radio on Tuesday, before the announcement of the nomination.

FEAR OF AN EXPANDING CONFLICT

In his first comments to the post, Pistorius, a regional politician considered close to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, made no mention of arms for Ukraine: “I know the importance of the task,” he said. he said in a statement. “It is important for me to closely involve the soldiers and take them with me.”

Pistorius will host US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday ahead of Friday’s meeting of allies at Ramstein Air Force Base.

Germany has been cautious about approving weapons that could be seen as an escalation of the conflict.

Scholz, speaking in an interview for Bloomberg TV on Tuesday, confirmed talks with Germany’s allies over tanks were underway but should not be conducted in public.

The Kremlin said last week that further deliveries of weapons, including French-made armored vehicles, to Kyiv would “aggravate the suffering of the Ukrainian people” and not change the course of the conflict.

Vladimir Solovyev, a pro-Kremlin presenter on state television Rossiya 1, said any Western countries that supplied Ukraine with more advanced weapons should be seen as legitimate targets for Russia.

Since President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine on February 24, the United States and its allies have provided tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons, including rocket systems, drones, armored vehicles and communications systems.

Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Zaluzhnyi said he outlined the “urgent needs” of his forces during a first personal meeting Tuesday in Poland with the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley.

Poland and Finland have already said they would send Leopards if Berlin gave its approval for re-export.

Separately, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told US President Joe Biden on Tuesday that the Netherlands would join the United States and Germany in sending Patriot missiles to Ukraine.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said NATO allies were sending a clear message to Putin by increasing arms supplies to Ukraine.

“The message we send to Putin…is that we are committed to supporting the Ukrainians until they win,” Cleverly told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

A senior Ukrainian official has accused Russia of carrying out the bulk of more than 2,000 cyberattacks on Ukraine in 2022, speaking at a press conference which he said was itself delayed in due to a cyberattack. There was no immediate comment on his allegations from Moscow.

PLUSH TOYS AT THE MEMORIAL

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions driven from their homes since Russia last February launched what it calls a “special military operation” to eliminate security threats in Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western backers call Russia’s actions a land grab.

Ukrainian forces pushed back Russian troops in the second half of 2022, but for the past two months the front lines have been largely frozen, despite heavy casualties suffered by both sides in fierce fighting.

Moscow has since October adopted a tactic of raining missiles on Ukrainian towns far from the front lines in the east and south, mainly targeting electricity infrastructure.

Russia says it aims to reduce Ukraine’s combat capability; Kyiv says the attacks serve no military purpose and are aimed at harming civilians, a war crime.

In Dnipro, residents laid flowers and soft toys on a makeshift memorial near the building devastated in a wave of missile attacks on Saturday.

Hundreds of mourners bid farewell to boxing trainer Mykhailo Korenovskyi, who was killed in a strike, as footage showed his flat’s kitchen, decorated in bright yellow colors, now exposed to the air after the exterior wall was ripped off.

A recent family video, filmed in the same kitchen, showed Korenovskyi’s daughter smiling and blowing out four candles on her birthday cake as he stood behind her, holding another child in his arms.

Moscow denies intentionally targeting civilians and blamed Ukrainian air defenses for the missile that hit the building. Kyiv says it was hit by a notoriously inaccurate Russian anti-ship missile for which Ukraine has no defense.

Written by Peter Graff and Gareth Jones; Editing by Nick Macfie, Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich;

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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