No answers yet on battle tanks for Ukraine as defence ministers weigh risks
Allied defence ministers have yet to reach a breakthrough on the question of whether to supply battle tanks for Ukraine on Friday as Kyiv says the tanks will be vital for its continued defence.
Ministers with the United States and Canada attended the meeting at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany alongside officials from 50 other nations, where the issue of heavy tanks was expected to dominate the agenda.
Allies have been wrestling with whether to send battle tanks to Ukraine, with attention on Germany, which is facing pressure not only to send some of its Leopard 2 tanks, but to allow other countries that operate the same tanks to do the same.
That would include Canada, which has 112 Leopard 2s in several configurations in use by the Canadian Armed Forces. The tanks were acquired from Germany in 2007 during the height of the war in Afghanistan.
Defence Minister Anita Anand, who made a surprise visit to Ukraine this week to announce a donation of 200 armoured support vehicles, reinforced the “importance of efforts by allies and partners to coordinate military assistance donations, including the delivery of urgent priority equipment to Ukraine,” the Department of National Defence said on Friday.
Germany has been accused of blocking the export of its Leopard 2 tanks over fears that Moscow will view such a move as a further escalation of the conflict.
Germany’s new defence minister, Boris Pistorius, told reporters on Friday that Berlin does “not fear anything,” but that it had a responsibility for the German people and Europe.
Pistorius denied that Berlin was unilaterally blocking the delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but said the government would be ready to move quickly on the issue if there was consensus among allies.
“There are good reasons for the deliveries and there are good reasons against, and in view of the entire situation of a war that has been ongoing for almost one year, all pros and cons must be weighed very carefully,” he said, adding he expected a decision would be made in the “short term.”
Pistorius said he had ordered the ministry to examine the tank stocks Germany has so he can be prepared for a possible green light and be able to “act immediately.”
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.
The United Kingdom has already increased the pressure on Germany by announcing last week it will be sending its own Challenger tanks to Ukraine along with a significant package of additional military aid.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters after the meeting that Germany was a reliable ally, but would not elaborate on the debate, referring journalists to his German counterpart’s remarks.
However, Austin said allied nations will be there to support Ukraine, but have a short time frame to supply Kyiv with what it desires.
“We have a window of opportunity here between now and the spring, whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive, and that’s not a long time,” he said.
“We have to pull together the right capabilities.”
The U.S. has declined, at least so far, to provide M1 Abrams tanks, citing extensive and complex maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicle. Austin said he did not have any news to share on that issue Friday.
Speaking at the start of the meeting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked allies for their support, but said more was needed and more quickly.
“We have to speed up. Time must become our weapon. The Kremlin must lose,” said Zelenskyy, who earlier implied Germany was holding other countries back from sending their tanks.
The head of NATO’s military committee, Adm. Rob Bauer, said in Portugal on Friday that any decision to supply Ukraine with battle tanks must be taken by each nation supporting the country.
“It is a sovereign decision by a sovereign state, which Germany is,” he told reporters in Lisbon.
“It is important that Ukraine wins this war … we need to seriously look at what Ukraine requires and if possible give them what they ask for,” he said, adding it has to be done in a timely fashion.
Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday the deployment of western tanks would trigger “unambiguously negative” consequences.
“All these tanks will require both maintenance and repairs, and so on, so (sending them) will add to Ukraine’s problems, but will not change anything with regard to the Russian side achieving its goals,” he said.
Bauer rebuked Peskov’s claim at the Portugal briefing, saying western weapons were making a difference in Ukraine.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has been raging since Feb. 24, 2022. It dubbed its campaign a “special military operation,” which Kyiv and the West denounced as an attempt of a imperialistic-style land grab.
— with files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters
by Global News