US and Germany clash over tanks for Ukraine

  • Germany’s Panther tanks are considered more suitable for Ukraine
  • All eyes are on Germany as defense chiefs meet on Friday
  • In Germany, Austin is to meet the new defense minister

KYIV/BERLIN, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Ukraine pleaded on Thursday for the West to send heavy tanks as the defense chiefs of the United States and Germany presided over a standoff over weapons that could decide the fate of the war.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will arrive in Germany on Thursday to meet its new defense minister, a day before a meeting of dozens of allies to pledge arms to Ukraine.

The meeting, which took place at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany, is said to be an opportunity to deliver weapons to change the momentum of the war in 2023.

Top of the agenda are heavy tanks, which Kiev says will be needed to fend off a new Russian offensive and launch counter-offensives to recapture its occupied territory.

“We don’t have time, the world doesn’t 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 should be closed soon,” he said. “We are paying for the stagnation of the lives of our Ukrainian people, which should not be the case.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made a similar plea via video link to leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, urging his country to deliver before Russia launches its next round of missile and armored ground strikes.

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“The supply of Western tanks should outlast another invasion of Russian tanks,” Zelensky said.

But to send the tanks to the West, Washington must resolve an impasse with Berlin, which has so far refrained from authorizing countries to send its Leopard 2 tanks, the military’s servants across Europe.

Washington and many Western allies say the Leopards — which Germany produced by the thousands during the Cold War and exported to its allies — are the only viable option available in sufficient numbers.

A German government source said Berlin would lift its objections if Washington sent its own Abrams tanks. But U.S. officials say the Abrams is unsuitable for Ukraine because it runs on turbine engines that use too much fuel to be delivered to Kyiv’s strained logistics system at the front.

Poland and Finland have already said they would send the Panthers if Germany lifts its veto, and other countries have indicated they are ready to do so. Britain added to the pressure last week by breaking a ban on heavy tanks and offering a squadron from its Challengers fleet, although far fewer of these are available than the Panthers.

Colin Kall, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said Wednesday that Abrams tanks are unlikely to be included in Washington’s next $2 billion military aid package, which will also include Stryker armored vehicles.

Not there yet

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Call said. “The Abrams tank is a very complex piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s difficult to train. It has a jet engine.”

Germany replaced its defense minister this week and says the tank decision is the first item on the agenda of new minister Boris Pistorius, who will meet in Austin.

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Ukraine, which relies primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants, says the new tanks will give its troops the mobile firepower to repel Russian troops in decisive battles.

Western tanks have more effective armor and better guns than their Soviet-era counterparts, which have been destroyed by the hundreds on both sides during the 11-month war in Ukraine.

In the first months of Russia’s “special military operation”, fighting has intensified in the south and east of Ukraine after Russia’s initial offensive from the north aimed at seizing Kiev was repulsed.

After major Ukrainian gains in the second half of 2022, the frontline has largely frozen over the past two months, with neither side making major gains despite heavy casualties in intense trench warfare.

“The situation at the front is difficult,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Wednesday. “We are seeing a gradual increase in the number of bombings and attempts to carry out offensive operations by invaders.”

Reporting by Andreas Ringe in Berlin and Reuters; Written by Grant McCool and Himani Sarkar; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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