- The German Panther tank was considered the best for Ukraine
- All eyes will be on Germany as defense leaders meet Friday
- Austin meets new defense minister in Germany
Kyiv/BERLIN, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Ukraine on Thursday begged the West to finally send it heavy tanks, as the defense ministers of the United States and Germany prepare for a showdown over weapons that Kyiv believes could decide the fate of wars.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet Germany’s new defense minister in Germany on Thursday, a day after they chaired a meeting of dozens of allies to pledge arms to Ukraine.
That meeting, held at the U.S. Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, was billed as an opportunity to provide weapons to change the tide of war in 2023.
Top of the agenda is heavy tanks, which Kyiv says it needs to fend off a new Russian onslaught and launch a counteroffensive to retake its occupied territories.
“We don’t have time, the world doesn’t have time,” Andrey Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, wrote on the Telegram messaging app on Thursday.
“Ukraine’s tank problem must end as soon as possible,” he said. “We are paying the price for the slowness of life for our Ukrainian people. It shouldn’t be like that.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a similar plea Wednesday via video link to leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, urging them to launch the next missile and armored ground attack in Russia. supplies to Ukraine ahead of the attack.
“The resupply of Western tanks must outweigh another invasion by Russian tanks,” Zelensky said.
But for the West to send tanks, Washington will have to resolve its standoff with Berlin, which has so far refused to authorize other countries to send its Leopard 2 tanks, the workhorse of European armies.
Washington and many Western allies say the Panther tank, which Germany produced thousands of during the Cold War and exported to its allies, is the only suitable option in sufficient numbers.
A German government source said Berlin would drop its objection if Washington sent its own Abrams tanks. But U.S. officials say the Abrams is unsuitable for Ukraine because it uses a turbine engine and Kyiv’s strained logistics system would consume too much fuel to resupply it on the front lines.
Poland and Finland have said they will send Leopards if Germany lifts its veto, and other countries have said they are prepared to do the same. Britain broke the taboo on heavy tanks last week by supplying a squadron from its Challenger fleet, although there are far fewer of these tanks than the Leopards, adding to the pressure.
Colin Carr, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said Wednesday that Abrams tanks are unlikely to be included in Washington’s next $2 billion military aid package, which would include Stryker armored vehicles.
“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Carr said. “The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train. It has a jet engine.”
Germany changed its defense minister this week and said the tank decision was the first item on the agenda when new minister Boris Pistorius will meet Austin.
Ukraine, which relies mostly on a variant of the Soviet-era T-72 tank, says the new tank will provide its army with mobile firepower to drive out Russian troops in a decisive battle.
Western tanks have more effective armor and better guns than Soviet-era tanks, and hundreds of tanks were destroyed on both sides during the 11-month war in Ukraine.
Fighting has been centered in southern and eastern Ukraine after an initial Russian offensive from the north aimed at taking Kyiv faltered in the first months of Russia’s “special military operation”.
After Ukraine made significant progress in the second half of 2022, the frontline has largely stalled over the past two months, with neither side making significant progress despite heavy casualties in intense trench warfare.
“The situation on the front lines remains dire,” Zelensky said in a video address on Wednesday. “We’re seeing a gradual increase in bombings and attempted offensive operations by intruders.”
Reporting by Andreas Rinke in Berlin and Reuters; Writing by Grant McCool and Himani Sarkar; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan
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