BERLIN (AP) — Germany has faced growing pressure to provide main battle tanks to Kyiv and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed frustration at not getting enough weapons as Western allies held talks on Thursday on how best to support Ukraine nearly 11 months after Russia invaded.
Since the UK announced last week that it would be sending Challenger 2 tanksBerlin has faced growing calls to supply Leopard 2 tanks or at least pave the way for others, such as Polandto deliver German-made Leopards from their own stock.
Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, left it open whether and under what conditions after meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on his first day in office.
He told ARD television he was ‘almost sure we’ll make a decision on that in the next few days, but I can’t tell you today what it will look like’.
Austin will host a regular coordination meeting of Ukraine’s Western allies on Friday at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Speaking via video link on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelenskyy offered a veiled critique of major supporters such as Germany and the United States which have nevertheless been reluctant to send tanks.
He lamented a “lack of specific armament”. Speaking through an interpreter, he said: “There are times when we shouldn’t hesitate or we shouldn’t compare when someone says, ‘I’ll give tanks if someone d other also shares their tanks. “”
Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers have said the promised British tanks, while welcome, are “not sufficient to meet operational objectives”.
“We guarantee that we will use these weapons responsibly and exclusively for the purpose of protecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine within internationally recognized borders,” Dmytro Kuleba and Oleksii Reznikov said in a statement, calling on the Germany and several other countries that use the Leopard 2. join an “international tank coalition”.
For months Ukraine has sought heavier vehicles such as the Leopard and US Abrams tanks, but Western leaders have been cautious.
Germany has been the focus of particular attention lately. Critics, some within Germany’s governing coalition, have long complained about Chancellor OIaf Scholz’s perceived reluctance to take the next step on arms deliveries.
Scholz was wary of pressure, insisting that Germany would not go it alone and stressing the need to ensure that NATO did not become a party to war with Russia, although each time until ‘now, Berlin has finally moved on. It depicts his careful weighing of each step as a virtue.
In Davos on Wednesday, Scholz avoided directly answering a question about the Leopards, saying Germany will remain one of Ukraine’s main arms suppliers and that “we never do something alone, but together.” ‘others, especially the United States’.
German officials have expressed reluctance to allow allies to donate Leopards unless the US also sends Abrams to Ukraine, according to a US official who was not authorized to comment and spoke on condition of anonymity.
When asked if Germany would only deliver Leopards if Washington supplied the Abrams, Pistorius replied that he was not “aware of any such package”. But he insisted that the aid must continue to be “coordinated” and that it is important that Germany proceeds “side by side with the Americans”.
A New US Military Aid Package Coming should include nearly 100 Stryker fighting vehicles and at least 50 Bradley armored vehicles – but not the Abrams, which US officials say has complex maintenance needs and may not be the best fit.
“The upkeep and high cost it would take to maintain an Abrams – it just doesn’t make sense to provide that to Ukrainians right now,” spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said during a briefing at the Pentagon Thursday.
Some eastern NATO allies have supplied Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukrainian forces, but officials acknowledge that supplies of Soviet-era equipment that Ukrainian forces were already familiar with are limited.
Senior officials from Britain, Poland, the Baltics and other European countries met in Estonia on Thursday ahead of the Ramstein meeting.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said his country would send at least three AS-90 artillery batteries, armored vehicles, thousands of rounds and 600 Brimstone missiles, as well as the Challenger 2 tank squadron.
Wallace told The Associated Press that the decision to send battle tanks was a “natural progression” of British military support for Ukraine and had been discussed with the United States.
“If you’re going to donate armored personnel carriers, you have to supplement that with tanks,” he said. “We had tanks that we thought could do it.”
Wallace acknowledged that the Challenger cargo “isn’t the only magic ingredient” for Ukraine, which has said it needs 300 tanks, among other weapons, to expel Russian forces. But he expressed hope that he will supplement the Bradley armored vehicles the United States already provides and help “open the way” for others to send tanks.
Estonia has announced its largest military aid package to date, including howitzers, ammunition, artillery support material and grenade launchers.
Elsewhere, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said his country had decided to send up to 50 Swedish-made combat vehicles along with a shoulder-mounted anti-tank missile system and the Archer artillery system to Ukraine.
Denmark plans to donate 19 French-made Caesar self-propelled howitzers.
Jamey Keaten reported from Davos, Switzerland. Associated Press reporters Aamer Madhani in Washington, Dasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.
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