February 5, 2023

But Kyiv says it needs heavy tanks to defend against Russian attacks and retake occupied land.


“We don’t have time, the world doesn’t have this time,” Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, wrote on Telegram on Thursday.

“We are paying for the slowness with the lives of our Ukrainian people. It should not be like that”.

Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said she was confident a solution could be found to supply modern main battle tanks to Ukraine, but the Netherlands, which leases Leopard 2 tanks from Germany, would need a green light from Berlin before deciding whether to contribute.

A German government source said Berlin had not yet received a request for permission from any country to re-export the tanks. The workhorse of armies across Europe and produced by Germany by the thousands during the Cold War, Leopard 2 tanks are the only suitable option available in sufficient numbers according to some Western allies.

US officials say they have no plans yet to send the Abrams, which is considered to use too much fuel for Kyiv’s strained logistics system to supply at the front.

‘War of Annihilation’

Pistorius and Austin discussed the importance of supporting Ukraine before their meeting, but neither addressed the tanks issue directly.

At a ceremony after being sworn in as minister, Pistorius said: “These are not normal times, we have a war in Europe. Russia is waging a brutal war of annihilation of a sovereign country, Ukraine.”

Austin described Germany as one of Washington’s closest allies and thanked it for its support of Ukraine so far.

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Poland and Finland have already said they would send leopards if Germany lifts its ban. In a sign of growing frustration, Poland suggested it could do so even if Germany tries to block it.

Russia has responded to the prospect of more weapons for Kyiv with threats of escalation. Dmitry Medvedev, an ally of President Vladimir Putin who served as president from 2008 to 2012 when Putin went on hiatus to act as prime minister, made one of Moscow’s clearest threats to use nuclear weapons if it loses in Ukraine.

“The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war can trigger a nuclear war,” Medvedev said. “Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends.”

There have been signs of friction within Germany’s ruling coalition. Scholz’s deputy, Robert Habeck, of his coalition partners The Greens, said last week that Germany would not stand in the way of other countries sending leopards to Ukraine.

Linking the Leopards to US Abrams tanks could shift the onus to Washington. Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said Wednesday that Abrams tanks are not likely to be included in Washington’s next massive $2 billion military aid package, spearheaded by Stryker and Bradley armored vehicles.

“The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It is expensive. It is difficult to train. It has a jet engine.”

Ukraine and Russia have largely relied on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which have been destroyed by the hundreds in 11 months of combat. Kyiv says better-armed and better-protected Western tanks would give his troops the mobile firepower to drive off Russian troops in decisive battles.

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After Ukraine’s big gains in the second half of 2022, the front lines have largely frozen over the past two months, with neither side making big gains despite heavy casualties in the intense war trench.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Russian private Wagner mercenary force which has taken a leading role in fighting near the eastern city of Bakhmut, claimed on Thursday that his forces had taken the village of Klishchiivka on the outskirts of Bakhmut. Kyiv has previously denied that the settlement fell.