Russia warns of an “extremely dangerous” escalation if NATO deploys heavy weapons such as battle tanks and long-range missile systems to Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s warning on Thursday came ahead of a meeting of major donors as Western countries consider sending more powerful military hardware to Ukraine as Russian forces step up attacks to secure the territory.
Germany, in particular, has faced increasing pressure to supply Kyiv with tanks, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has expressed frustration at not getting enough heavy weapons.
Since the UK announced last week that it would send Challenger 2 tanks, Berlin has come under increasing pressure to supply its Leopard 2 tanks or at least pave the way for others – like Poland – to deliver German-made equipment from their own stock.
The Kremlin has urged the West not to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons capable of hitting Russian forces and territory.
“Potentially, it is extremely dangerous. This will mean taking the conflict to a whole new level, which, of course, will not bode well from a global and pan-European security perspective,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“We will destroy it”
On Friday, the United States will gather its allies at its air base in Ramstein, Germany, for a new round of talks on military support for Ukraine.
US Chief of Defense Lloyd Austin will host the coordination meeting. He said “we will renew our united commitment to supporting Ukraine’s self-defense for the long term” – but did not mention specific new equipment.
Western partners fear Ukraine could use long-range weapons to strike deep inside Russian territory or Crimea – a peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014 – despite Kyiv’s promise not to do so.
Peskov spoke after Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said Russia would retaliate if Ukraine used Western-supplied weapons to target Russia or the Crimean Peninsula.
“It should become obvious to everyone: whatever weapons the Americans or NATO provide to the Zelenskyy regime, we will destroy them,” Antonov said. “It is simply impossible to defeat Russia.”
American rhetoric on Ukraine was becoming “increasingly belligerent”, he added.
By insisting that Crimea is part of Ukraine and saying that Kyiv can use US weapons to protect its territory, Washington is “essentially pushing the Kyiv regime to commit terrorist acts in Russia,” Antonov said.
Separately, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has warned that continued Western support for Ukraine could lead to nuclear war.
“A nuclear power that loses in a conventional war can provoke the outbreak of a nuclear war,” Medvedev wrote. “The nuclear powers have not lost the major conflicts on which their fate depends.”
Peskov said Medvedev’s comments were in line with Russian nuclear doctrine.
“We can manage the risks”
The commander-in-chief of NATO forces in Europe said the potential risk of an escalation of war in Ukraine due to Western battle tank deliveries was manageable.
“Can we manage the risk? Yes absolutely. I believe we can manage the risk in general,” US General Christopher Cavoli told reporters Thursday in Brussels after a NATO Military Committee meeting.
Rob Bauer, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, stressed the importance of supplying Ukraine with tanks.
“The Russians are fighting with tanks, so the Ukrainians also need tanks,” he said. “In terms of matching what the enemy has, it’s important for the Ukrainians, and in terms of their ambition to regain their own territory.”
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said it was “time to stop shaking before [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and take the last step”.
“Ukraine needs tanks, tanks – the key to ending the war properly,” Podolyak said on Twitter.
Earlier this month, the United States promised to send its powerful Bradley armored fighting vehicles, while France offered its highly mobile AMX-10 RC – offensive weapons that Western nations had previously considered prohibited .
Military support for Ukraine will be discussed by representatives of around 50 countries in Ramstein, including the 30 NATO members.
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 other countries using the Leopard 2 to join an “international tank coalition”.