Gabon: The death of the head of diplomacy after a heart attack in the Council of Ministers
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, GERMANY: Ukraine’s allies failed to agree on a supply of heavy tanks on Friday, dashing the hopes of Kiev, which has been pressing them but will now have to wait for further talks and a green light from Germany.
After the meeting of the Westerners at the US base in Ramstein, Germany, US Defense Minister Lloyd Austin soberly stated that the Germans “have not made a decision about the Leopard tanks”.
Kiev’s expectations were high before this meeting of about fifty countries, which intend to coordinate the military assistance of the allies against the Russian invasion.
Experts say the modern, Western-designed heavy tanks will be a crucial advantage for Kyiv in the coming fighting in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has resumed its offensive after heavy setbacks this winter.
Poland and Finland have offered to deliver German-made Leopard tanks, but any shipment of such weapons would have to get the green light from Berlin, which is unwilling to do so at this stage.
Boris Pistorius, Germany’s new defense minister, said on the sidelines of the meeting that “positions are far from as uniform as you might think” on the difficult topic.
Mr Pistorius, although he has only been in office since Thursday, rejected the “impression” that his country was hindering the decision by ensuring that Berlin acted and launched an inventory of Leopard stocks available to its military and industry.
The US Secretary of Defense helped Berlin by calling it a “reliable ally”.
“But we can all do more to help Kyiv,” he said.
At the opening of the meeting, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zekensky called on the allies to accelerate the delivery of heavy weapons.
“It is up to you to activate the basic supply that will stop the evil,” he said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov immediately responded that it would not change anything on the ground and accused Western powers of maintaining the “illusion” of a possible victory on the “battlefield” of Ukraine.
kyiv counterattack in spring
However, that could all change in the coming weeks.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said he was “confident” that the allies would eventually be able to form a coalition to get the Leopards to Ukraine.
“We have a window of opportunity here, from when Ukraine will launch its ‘counteroffensive’ until the spring,” Austin said.
Until then, the Pentagon chief believes that various additional military aid packages recently pledged by several countries offer Ukrainian forces “the capabilities they need to succeed” on the ground.
The US, UK, Sweden and even Denmark announced significant new arms deliveries in the hours before the meeting.
In doing so, Washington will release a $2.5 billion tranche, including 59 Bradley armored vehicles to add to the 50 light armored vehicles of this type promised on January 6, and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers, according to the Pentagon. But there are no Abrams heavy tanks.
In addition, Great Britain has committed to send Ukraine 600 Brimstone missiles, Denmark 19 French-made Caesar guns and Sweden “Archer” self-propelled guns.
Finland announced 400 million euros in military aid to Ukraine on Friday, its largest contribution to date, including artillery and ammunition.
“From a military point of view (…) it will be very difficult to withdraw Russian forces from all occupied territories of Ukraine this year,” General Mark Milley warned in Ramstein.
“High intensity” fights
On Friday, the besieged city of Bachmouth (east), the current epicenter of the fighting, was again heavily bombarded, AFP journalists noted.
“Look, look, this is my apartment, this is my only apartment,” grumbled Olga Tomak, 70, thinking with her husband, Mikola, whose building burned down after the strike.
The Russian occupying authorities noted that the fighting “has increased sharply” in the south of Zaporozhye, where clashes are taking place “along the entire front line”.
Westerners especially fear that Kyiv will use these weapons to strike deep into Russian territory and air and naval bases in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Meanwhile, the UN announced on Friday that the first humanitarian convoy had arrived near the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar and claimed that Wagner’s group had been captured by the Russian army and mercenaries last week.
Ukraine’s security services (SBU) also claimed to have arrested “seven Russian agents” suspected of spying for Moscow and possibly involved in the attack on the building in the Dnieper region (east). 45 people, including six children.