Defense ministers from Ukraine’s Western allies are due to meet in Germany on January 20 to ponder more military aid for Kyiv as Ukrainian leaders plead with Germany to supply modern tanks sorely needed to stave off Russia’s offensive in the east, where heavy fighting has continued unabated for months.
Germany faces growing pressure to supply Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine or at least give permission to other allies such as Poland to deliver the German-made tanks from their own stock.
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U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are hosting the meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
They are expected to discuss the latest $2.5 billion worth of military for Ukraine announced by the Pentagon on January 19 that includes Stryker armored vehicles for the first time but no tanks.
On January 19, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy turned up the pressure on Berlin to supply the Leopards, addressing Germany’s leaders in an interview with public broadcaster ARD, saying: “In plain language, can you deliver Leopards or not? Then hand them over!”
Ukraine expects that the Ramstein meeting will result in “strong decisions” Zelenskiy said.
Washington has declined for the time being to provide its own M1 Abrams tanks, arguing that the high-tech U.S. tank needs extensive and complex maintenance and poses huge logistical challenges.
The United States said it would be more productive to send Leopards that many allied militaries are already using.
Ukrainian forces, the Americans argue, would only have to get trained on the Leopard, and avoid the longer and more difficult training for the Abrams.
Austin met with Germany’s newly appointed defense minister, Boris Pistorius, in Berlin ahead of the January 20 meeting. It wasn’t clear whether the tank issue was discussed during the meeting.
But Pistorius told ARD he was “pretty sure we will get a decision on this [tank issue] in the coming days, but I can’t yet tell you today how it will look.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz so far held out against sending Leopard tanks over concern that it could provoke Moscow, which has warned against an “extremely dangerous” escalation if the West sends longer-range weapons to Kyiv.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskiy, took issue with Germany’s approach.
“True leadership is about leading by example, not about looking up to others. There are no taboos,” Podolyak said on Twitter. “From Washington to London, from Paris to Warsaw, you hear one thing: Ukraine needs tanks. Tanks — the key to end the war properly. Time to stop trembling at [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and take the final step.”
Britain last week said it will send Ukraine Challenger 2 tanks.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told a briefing on January 19 that the Leopard and Challenger aren’t comparable to the Abrams because the Abrams is much harder to maintain.
“It’s more of a sustainment issue. I mean, this is a tank that requires jet fuel, whereas the Leopard and the Challenger, it’s a different engine.” The Leopard and Challenger are “a little bit easier to maintain,” Singh said.
The latest U.S. aid package for Ukraine announced by the Pentagon includes eight Avenger air-defense systems, 350 Humvees, 53 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, more than 100,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and rockets, and missiles for the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
Several Western allies have said they support sending modern heavy weaponry to Ukraine, including tanks.
Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski said on January 20 that Poland is ready to take “nonstandard” action if Germany opposes sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
WATCH: The authorities said 14 people were killed, including one child, along with the Ukrainian interior minister and other officials flying in the helicopter. Many children were injured.
In an interview with Polish radio, Jablonski was asked if supplying tanks to Ukraine would be possible even despite German opposition. Jablonski answered, “I think that if there is strong resistance, we will be ready to take even such nonstandard action…. But let’s not anticipate the facts.”
On January 19, representatives of nine countries, meanwhile, said in a joint statement they “commit to collectively pursuing delivery of an unprecedented set of donations including main battle tanks, heavy artillery, air defense, ammunition, and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine’s defense.”
The joint statement followed a meeting in Tallinn of the defense minister of Britain, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, and representatives from Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Slovakia.
Meanwhile, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in its daily update on the battlefield situation on January 20 that the Ukrainian military repelled a total of 16 attacks by Russian forces in three regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya — over the past 24 hours.
The General Staff said Russian forces continued to concentrate their firepower on Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in Donetsk, where Ukrainian troops have been fighting pitched battles for months.