Germany Says No Tanks to Ukraine

January 21st, 2023 - by Ellen Mitchell / The Hill

Defense Chiefs Fail to Reach Deal
On Sending Tanks to Ukraine

Ellen Mitchell / The Hill

(January 20, 2023) — Top Western military officials on Friday failed to come to an agreement on providing modern battle tanks to Ukraine during a meeting to coordinate lethal aid to Kyiv in its war with Russia.

After more than five hours of talks at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, countries were still at an impasse as to whether to provide German-made Leopard 2 tanks to the embattled country.

At the center of the roadblock is Germany, which needs to give permission to other countries that possess the tank before they can export it to Ukraine. Berlin has so far resisted pressure to quickly allow Kyiv to take possession of its own tanks or clear the way for other countries to send theirs.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin repeated Germany’s position that “they’ve not made a decision on the provision of Leopard tanks.”

“What we’re really focused on is making sure that Ukraine has the capability that it needs to be successful right now,” Austin said at a news conference. “So 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. And we have to pull together the right capabilities.”

Ahead of the key meeting on lethal aid for Kyiv, Washington announced a new $2.5 billion weapons package for Ukraine, including for the first time Stryker armored vehicles. But the military assistance notably left out M1 Abrams tanks, which U.S. defense officials have stressed would be difficult to fuel and maintain in the conflict.

U.S. officials have relayed that Ukrainians would better be able to use Leopards, as they require less training to operate and are powered by less expensive diesel fuel versus the jet fuel Abrams engines require.

Despite the lack of agreement on the tanks issue, numerous discussions took place on the sidelines in Ramstein, including a meeting of countries that possess Leopard tanks in their stockpiles.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, whose country has pledged 14 Leopard tanks should other countries also hand them over, said he was optimistic on progress after the ministers of 15 countries met on the sidelines of the conference to discuss the topic.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius

Germany’s new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius also told reporters that while there was still no resolution on the tanks question, “I am very sure that there will be a decision in the short term but … I don’t know how the decision will look,” The Associated Press reported.

Pistorius added that he had told his ministry to assess its tank stocks so he can “act immediately” should his country give him the go ahead to send the advanced vehicles.

Despite the mounting criticisms of Germany, Austin defended the NATO ally, noting that Berlin “has contributed a lot to this campaign,” including air defense capabilities and training Ukrainian troops.

Asked if Germany is doing enough to show “real leadership” in Europe in terms of its support of Ukraine, Austin replied, “Yes, but we can all do more.”

“They are a reliable ally and they’ve been that way for a very, very long time. And I truly believe that they will continue to be a reliable ally going forward,” Austin said.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, who spoke alongside Austin, also touched on the war at large.

“This is a very, very bloody war. And there’s significant casualties on both sides,” Milley said, predicting that the conflict will likely end in a negotiation.

“From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” he noted.

“I think what can happen is a continued defense, stabilizing the front … for the Ukrainians to run a significant tactical or offensive operation to liberate as much Ukrainian territory as possible,” he added. “But I do think at the end of the day, this war, like many wars in the past, will end at some sort of negotiating table.”

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