January 27, 2023

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The United States and Germany are heading to a confrontation over tanks for Ukraine

  • German Leopard tanks are the most suitable for Ukraine
  • All eyes will be on Germany when the defense chiefs meet on Friday
  • Austin in Germany, to meet the new Minister of Defense

Kyiv/BERLIN (Reuters) – Ukraine on Thursday pleaded with the West to finally send in heavy tanks, as the defense chiefs of the United States and Germany headed for a showdown over weapons that Kyiv says could decide the war.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Germany on Thursday and meet its new defense minister, a day before they host dozens of allies to pledge weapons to Ukraine.

This meeting, at US Air Force Base Ramstein in Germany, has been described as an opportunity to provide weapons to change the momentum of war in 2023.

High on the agenda are heavy tanks, which Kyiv says it needs to fend off a new Russian offensive and launch counterattacks to recapture occupied territory.

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

“The issue of tanks for Ukraine must be closed as soon as possible,” he said. “We are paying the price for slowness with the lives of our Ukrainian people. This should not be the case.”

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

“The supply of Western tanks must again exceed the invasion of Russian tanks,” Zelensky said.

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But for the West to send the tanks, Washington would have to resolve the confrontation with Berlin, which has so far refused to allow countries to send its Leopard 2 tanks, the backbone of armies across Europe.

Washington and many Western allies say the Panthers — which Germany made in the thousands during the Cold War and exported to its allies — are the only viable option available in large enough 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 not suitable for Ukraine, because it is powered by turboprop engines that use too much fuel for Kyiv’s overworked logistics system to keep it fueled at the front.

Poland and Finland have already said they will send the Panthers if Germany lifts its veto, and other countries have indicated their willingness to do so as well. Britain increased the pressure by breaking the taboo on heavy tanks last week, introducing a squadron of its fleet of Challengers, although far fewer of those from the Panthers were available.

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

Is there yet

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Cale said. “The Abrams tank is a very complex piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train with. It has a turbojet.”

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

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Ukraine, which has relied mainly on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, says the new tanks will give its forces mobile firepower to push back Russian forces in decisive battles.

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

The fighting was concentrated in southern and eastern Ukraine after an initial Russian offensive from the north aimed at capturing Kyiv was thwarted during Russia’s “special military operation” in the first months.

After significant Ukrainian gains in the second half of 2022, the front lines have been largely frozen over the past two months, with neither side making significant gains despite heavy losses in intense trench warfare.

“The situation on the front line is still difficult,” Zelensky said in a video address on Wednesday. “We are witnessing a gradual increase in the number of shelling and attempts to carry out offensive actions by the invaders.”

Reporting by Andreas Reinke in the Berlin and Reuters offices; Written by Grant McCall and Himani Sarkar; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan

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