Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky has made a direct appeal for tanks as dozens of Western allies meet in southern Germany. At the crunch talks taking place at Ramstein airbase, he has urged more countries to provide tanks to help Ukraine fend off further Russian campaigns.
The US and other European nations have already promised more weapons, but Mr Zelensky wants more. He told the defence ministers: “Hundreds of thank yous are not hundreds of tanks.”
Germany is under pressure to send its Leopard 2 tanks and to allow other countries to provide Ukraine with their own Leopards. As the nation of manufacture, it has to give its permission before countries such as Poland or Finland commit to re-exporting them.
Western officials see a potential “window of opportunity” in the coming weeks for Ukraine to push Russian forces back. They say Moscow is running short of ammunition and trained troops – despite efforts to replenish stocks and mobilise additional forces. In response, the Kremlin has warned of increasing Nato involvement, direct as well as indirect, in the conflict.
The UK has already announced it will send 14 Challenger 2 battle tanks. But Kyiv wants more tanks, and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he hoped the 50 allies would “all hear the message that unlocking the tank is part of 2023”. Germany’s Leopard tanks are key to that equation. Ahead of the Ramstein meeting, Mr Zelensky criticised Germany’s hesitant attitude to sending tanks, assuring Berlin that the Leopards would only be used in self-defence and not go through Russia. “If you have Leopard [tanks], then give them to us,” he told German public TV.
Polish deputy foreign minister Pawel Jablonski indicated on Friday that Warsaw might be prepared to provide Ukraine with Leopards regardless of Berlin’s views. Retired US Army general David Petraeus said there was “legitimate reluctance” in Washington on the issue of sending Abrams tanks because it was difficult to maintain and had a jet turbine. He said it was “imperative” that any Western tank donations were made “early enough, so [Ukrainian soldiers] can actually train on them”.
On Thursday, Western nations pledged to send more vehicles, artillery and munitions to bolster the Ukrainian war effort. The US committed a new package worth $2.5bn (£2bn), saying this took its spend on Ukrainian support to $26.7bn since last February.