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Germany signals change of veto on Leopard tanks for Ukraine

PARIS/LVIV, Ukraine, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Germany would not object to Poland sending its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, the German foreign minister said, signaling a possible breakthrough for the Ukraine as it tries to strengthen its forces. of a new expected Russian offensive.

Eleven months after Russia invaded its southern neighbor, the fighting is centered on the town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where Russian mercenaries Wagner and Ukrainian forces clashed in a battle of attrition .

The Russian Defense Ministry said for the second day in a row on Sunday that its forces were improving their positions in the Zaporizhzhia region of southern Ukraine, although a spokesman for the Ukrainian army told the public television channel that the situation there was “difficult” but stable.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the battlefield accounts.

Ukrainian officials have been asking Western allies for months to provide them with modern German-made tanks, but Germany has refrained from sending them or allowing other NATO countries to do so.

The Leopard tanks, which are held by a range of NATO countries but whose transfer to Ukraine requires approval from Berlin, are seen by defense experts as the most suitable for Ukraine.

Western allies pledged billions of dollars worth of weapons for Ukraine last week, but failed to persuade Germany to lift its veto on supplying the tanks.

But in an apparent shift in Germany’s stance, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said her government would not block Poland if it sent in its Leopard 2 tanks without German approval.

“For the moment, the question has not been asked, but if we were asked, we would not stand in the way,” she told French television LCI, when asked about her government’s reaction to such a move. Polish decision.

Germany has come under heavy pressure to let the Leopards into Ukraine, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party has traditionally been skeptical of the military implications and wary of sudden moves that could trigger an escalation from Russia.

Baerbock’s remarks appeared to go further than Scholz’s comments at a Paris summit earlier on Sunday that all decisions on arms deliveries would be made in coordination with allies, including the United States.

Ukraine says the heavily armored main battle tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive expected in the coming months.

But Germany appears to have tied such a contribution to a decision by the United States to send its Abrams tanks, which US officials said they were hesitant to do because the vehicles are complicated to maintain.

‘TERRIBLE WAR’

US lawmakers on Sunday pushed their government to export M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine, saying even sending a token number would be enough to pressure European allies to do the same.

Britain recently said it was supplying 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. Its foreign minister, James Cleverly, said on Sunday that he still wanted an international agreement to supply Ukraine with the German-made tanks.

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine.

Last week, the Kremlin spokesman said that Western countries providing additional tanks to Ukraine would not change the course of the conflict, but would aggravate the problems of the Ukrainian people.

A close ally of President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that offensive arms shipments to Kyiv that threaten Russian territories would lead to global catastrophe and render arguments against the use of weapons of mass destruction untenable.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, warned that US and NATO support for Ukraine was leading the world to a “terrible war”.

Since its February 24 invasion, which it presented as defending itself from an aggressive West, Russia has taken control of parts of Ukraine and said it would never return them. Ukraine has declared that the restoration of its territorial integrity is not open to negotiation.

In besieged eastern Ukraine, the senior official installed by Russia in the occupied parts of the Donetsk region said on Sunday evening that he had visited the town of Soledar which Russia says it captured this month -this.

Denis Pushilin, the administrator, posted a short video on the Telegram messaging app that showed him driving and walking through uninhabited areas and destroyed buildings.

Reuters was unable to independently verify when and where the video was taken.

On Jan. 11, the private Russian military group Wagner said it had captured Soledar, and Russian authorities in the Donetsk region said last week they had control of the mining town.

Ukraine has never publicly declared that the city was taken by Russian forces. On Sunday, the general staff of its armed forces said in a daily update that Russian forces had fired on Ukrainian positions in the area.

Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Leigh Thomas; Additional reporting by Tom Sims, Lidia Kelly and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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