- German Leopard tanks are considered the best suited for Ukraine
- All eyes are on Germany as defense leaders meet on Friday
- U.S. to provide $125 million to Ukraine to support energy systems
- Minister among dead in helicopter crash in Ukraine
KYIV/BERLIN, Jan 19 (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 partners in the NATO remain out of step on how best to arm Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Ukraine has pleaded for modern Western weapons, especially heavy battle tanks, so it can regain momentum after some battlefield successes in the second half of 2022 against Russian forces that invaded in February last.
Berlin has a veto over any decision to export its Leopard tanks, deployed by NATO’s allied armies across Europe and considered by defense experts to be the most suitable for Ukraine.
On several occasions in recent days, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has underlined, behind closed doors, the condition that American tanks should also be sent to Ukraine, the German government source said on condition of anonymity.
Asked about Germany’s position, US President Joe Biden’s spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said: “The President believes that each country should make its own sovereign decisions on security assistance measures and the types of equipment it is able to supply to Ukraine.”
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would provide $125 million to Ukraine to support its energy and electricity networks following targeted attacks on those utilities by Russian forces.
NATO allies have sought to avoid the risk of appearing to directly confront Russia and have refrained from sending their most powerful weapons to Ukraine.
US officials have said the Biden administration is expected next to approve Stryker armored vehicles for Ukraine produced in Canada for the US military, but it is not ready to send US tanks.
The Pentagon is still not ready to respond to Kyiv’s request for M1 Abrams tanks, said Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top political adviser who had just returned from a trip to Ukraine.
“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Kahl said. “The Abrams tank is very complicated equipment. It is expensive. It is difficult to train. It has a jet engine.”
Kahl’s remarks came ahead of Friday’s meeting of senior defense officials from dozens of countries at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany to coordinate military aid to Kyiv.
New German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius will receive US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday.
PRESSURE ON GERMANY
Attention at Friday’s meeting will be focused on Germany, which has said Western tanks should only be supplied to Ukraine if there is an agreement among key Kyiv allies.
Britain ratcheted up the pressure on Berlin this month by becoming the first Western country to send tanks to Ukraine, promising a squadron of its Challengers. Poland and Finland said they would send Leopard tanks if Germany approved them.
In a video-linked speech at the Davos forum on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged Western allies to supply his country before Russia launches its next missile and armored ground attacks.
“Ukraine’s supply of air defense systems must outpace Russia’s upcoming missile attacks,” Zelenskiy said. “Western tank supply must outrun another Russian tank invasion.”
The German Leopard 2 is considered one of the best Western tanks. It weighs over 60 tons (60,000 kilograms), has a 120 mm smoothbore gun and can hit targets at a distance of up to five kilometers (three miles).
Ukraine, which has relied primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants, says the new tanks would give its troops the mobile firepower to hunt Russian troops in decisive battles.
DIFFICULT FRONTLINE SITUATION
The fighting has been concentrated in southern and eastern Ukraine, after Russia’s initial assault from the north aimed at taking Kyiv was thwarted in the first months of an invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin called it a “special military operation”.
“The situation on the front line remains difficult, with Donbass being the epicenter of the fiercest and most principled battles,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Wednesday. “We are witnessing a gradual increase in the number of bombardments and attempts to carry out offensive actions by the invaders.”
The Donbass, made up of Luhansk and Donetsk, is the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine. Russian forces have been pushing for months for control of the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk, but with limited success, and have shifted their focus to the nearby small town of Soledar in recent weeks.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said in a YouTube video that Ukrainian army units remained in Soledar, with heavy fighting in western districts despite Russian claims for more than a week that they were in control the city now.
Reuters could not verify reports from the battlefield.
Separately, a helicopter crashed in fog on Wednesday near a childcare center outside Kyiv, killing 14 people, including Ukraine’s interior minister and a child.
Ukrainian officials have not suggested that any action by Russia was responsible for the downing of the helicopter.
The accident was “a terrible tragedy” and “the pain is indescribable”, Zelenskiy said on Telegram, and in his nightly video address he said he had asked the SBU intelligence service to investigate the cause.
Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin and Reuters offices; Written by Grant McCool and Himani Sarkar; Editing by Howard Goller and Simon Cameron-Moore
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