KYIV/ BERLIN: Ukraine pleaded on Thursday for the West to finally send it heavy tanks as the defence chiefs of the United States and Germany headed for a showdown over weapons Kyiv says could decide the fate of the war.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Germany on Thursday to meet new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, shortly after Pistorius was sworn into office.
The next day both will convene dozens of allies to pledge weapons for Ukraine at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base, a meeting billed as a chance to provide the arms to shift the war’s momentum in 2023.
Billions of dollars’ worth of military aid is expected, but the meeting is likely to be judged a failure unless it produces a major commitment of heavy tanks, which Kyiv says it needs to fend off Russian assaults and recapture its occupied territory.
“We have no time, the world does not have this time,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, wrote on the Telegram messaging app on Thursday.
“The question of tanks for Ukraine must be closed as soon as possible,” he said. “We are paying for the slowness with the lives of our Ukrainian people. It shouldn’t be like that.”
A big pledge of tanks will require resolving a stand-off between Washington and Berlin, which has so far blocked allies from sending its Leopard 2 tanks, workhorse of militaries across Europe.
Washington and many Western allies say the Leopards which Germany made in the thousands during the Cold War and exported to its allies are the only suitable option available in big enough numbers.
A German government source said Berlin would lift its objections if Washington sends its own Abrams tanks. US officials say the Abrams is inappropriate for Ukraine, because it runs on turbine engines that use too much fuel for Kyiv’s strained logistics system to keep them supplied at the front.
Poland and Finland have already said they would send Leopards if Germany lifts its veto, and other countries have indicated they are ready to do so as well. Britain added to the pressure by breaking the taboo on heavy tanks last week, offering a squadron from its fleet of Challengers, though far fewer of these are available than Leopards.
Germany has been reluctant to send offensive weapons that could be seen as escalating the conflict. Many of its Western allies say that concern is misplaced, with Russia showing no sign of backing away from its onslaught against Ukraine.
Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said on Wednesday Abrams tanks were not likely to be included in Washington’s next massive $2 billion military aid package, which will be headlined by Stryker and Bradley armoured vehicles.
“I just don’t think we’re there yet,” Kahl said. “The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train on. It has a jet engine.”
Germany has said the tank decision is the first item on the agenda of Pistorius, named to replace Christine Lambrecht who quit as defence minister this week. At a ceremony after being sworn in, Pistorius pledged to support Ukraine, including with military hardware, but gave no specifics.
“These are not normal times, we have a war raging in Europe. Russia is waging a brutal war of annihilation on a sovereign country, on Ukraine,” he said.
Ukraine, which has relied primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants, says the new tanks would give its troops the mobile firepower to drive out Russian troops in decisive battles. (Int’l News Desk)