Allies failed to agree on delivery of heavy tanks claimed by Kyiv

published on Friday, January 20, 2023 at 19:15.

Ukraine’s allies failed to agree on the delivery of the heavy tanks on Friday, dampening the hopes of Kyiv, which had been pressing them but must now await further discussions and a green light from Germany.

Germany “has not made a decision on the Leopard tanks,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said coolly after a meeting of Westerners at the US base in Ramstein, Germany.

Kyiv’s hopes were high ahead of a gathering of about fifty nations meant to coordinate allied military assistance against a Russian invasion.

Experts say the modern Western-designed heavy tanks will be an important advantage for Kyiv in the battle looming in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is back on the offensive after suffering a major setback this winter.

Poland and Finland have offered to deliver German-made Leopard tanks, but such a delivery would have to get the go-ahead from Berlin, which is reluctant to do so at this stage.

But on this thorny subject, “the position is far from as homogeneous as one might think”, assured the new German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius on the sidelines of the meeting.

Mr Pistorius, who has only taken office since Thursday, however, dismissed the “impression” that his country was blocking the decision, ensuring that Berlin acted and rolled out an inventory of available Leopard stocks for its army and industry.

The US Secretary of Defense came to Berlin’s aid, calling him a “reliable ally”.

“But we can all do more” to help Kyiv, he told the press.

At the opening of the meeting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zekensky urged allies to speed up their deliveries of heavy weapons.

“It is in your power” to “launch a massive supply that will stop evil,” he said via video link.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov immediately replied that this would not change anything on the ground, accusing Western countries of maintaining “illusions” of a possible Ukrainian victory “on the battlefield”.

– Kyiv counterattack in the spring

However, things could change in the coming weeks.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said he was “confident” that the allies would eventually succeed in creating a coalition to send the Leopards to Ukraine.

“We have a window of opportunity here between now and spring,” when Ukraine will begin its “counterattack,” Austin said.

Until then, various additional military aid packages recently promised by several countries are offering Ukrainian forces “the capacity they need to achieve success” on the ground, the Pentagon chief said.

The United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, and even Denmark announced substantial new weapons shipments hours before the meeting.

Washington will thus release a $2.5 billion tranche, including 59 Bradley armored vehicles, which will be added to the 50 light armored vehicles of this type promised on January 6, and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers, according to the Pentagon. But no Abrams heavy tanks.

Britain has promised to send Ukraine 600 additional Brimstone missiles, Denmark 19 French-made Caesar guns and Swedish Archer self-propelled guns.

Finland on Friday announced 400 million euros in military aid to Ukraine, its largest contribution to date, which includes artillery and ammunition.

“From a military point of view, (…) it will be very difficult to expel Russian forces from all of occupied Ukraine this year,” General Mark Milley warned in Ramstein.

– “High intensity” fights.

On Friday, the besieged city of Bakhmout (east), the current center of the fighting, was again savagely bombarded, AFP journalists noted.

“Look, look, this is my apartment, this is the only apartment I have”, complains Olga Tomak, 70, reflecting with Mykola, her husband, the building caught fire after the strike.

Russian occupation authorities said they noted a “sharp increase in intensity” of fighting in the southern region of Zaporizhia, where clashes took place “along the front line”.

Westerners in particular fear that Kyiv will cause an escalation by using these weapons to attack deep into Russian territory and the air and sea bases of Crimea, a peninsula which was annexed in 2014 by Russia.

Meanwhile, the United Nations announced on Friday the arrival of the first humanitarian convoy in the vicinity of Soledar, a town in eastern Ukraine that was claimed last week by Russian troops and mercenaries from Wagner’s group.

The Ukrainian security service (SBU) also claims to have arrested “seven Russian agents” in the Dnipro (eastern) region, who are suspected of spying for Moscow and possibly involved in an attack on a residential building in this city which has killed at least 45 people, including six children.

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