Ukraine’s western allies are meeting at Ramstein air base in Germany today, with the host nation under increasing pressure to allow German-manufactured Leopard tanks to be supplied to Kyiv.
The summit will be chaired by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and attended by Germany’s new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, who is in his second day in office.
For months, Ukraine has sought heavier vehicles such as the Leopard 2 and US Abrams tanks, but Western leaders have trodden carefully.
Germany has been particularly in focus recently. Critics, some inside Germany’s governing coalition, have long complained of Chancellor OIaf Scholz’s perceived hesitancy to take the next step when it comes to weapons deliveries.
In Davos on Wednesday, Scholz avoided directly answering a question about Leopards, saying Germany will remain one of Ukraine's top weapons suppliers and that "we are never doing something just by ourselves, but together with others — especially the United States."
One of Ukraine's top weapons suppliers
Germany has also blocked allies who use German-manufactured Leopards from sending them to Ukraine.
Senior officials from Britain, Poland, the Baltic nations and other European countries met in Estonia on Thursday before the Ramstein gathering.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said his country would send at least three batteries of AS-90 artillery, armoured vehicles, thousands of rounds of ammunition and 600 Brimstone missiles, as well as the squadron of 14 Challenger 2 tanks.
Wallace said the decision to send battle tanks was a "natural progression" of UK military support for Ukraine and was discussed with Washington.
"If you’re going to donate armoured personnel carriers, you need to complement that with tanks," he said. "We had some tanks that we thought could do that."
Wallace acknowledged that the Challenger shipment "is not the single magic ingredient" for Ukraine, which has said it needs 300 tanks, among other weapons to expel Russian forces. But he voiced hope that it will complement Bradley armoured vehicles the US is already supplying and help lead the way for others to send tanks.
Lack of specific weaponry
Speaking via video link at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Summit, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy expressed frustration at a ‘lack of specific weaponry’. Speaking through an interpreter, he said: "There are times where we shouldn’t hesitate or we shouldn’t compare when someone says, 'I will give tanks if someone else will also share his tanks.’"
Ukraine's foreign and defence ministers said that the promised British tanks, while welcome, are not sufficient to achieve operational goals.
"We guarantee that we will use these weapons responsibly and exclusively for the purposes of protecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine within internationally recognised borders," Dmytro Kuleba and Oleksii Reznikov said in a statement, appealing to Germany and several other countries that use the Leopard 2 to join an international tank coalition.
On Thursday, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh explained America’s reluctance to send its own Abrams tanks. She said: "The maintenance and the high cost that it would take to maintain an Abrams — it just doesn’t make sense to provide that to the Ukrainians at this moment."
Some eastern NATO allies have provided Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukrainian forces, but officials acknowledge that supplies of Soviet-era equipment with which Ukrainian forces were already familiar are limited.
Estonia announced its largest military aid package to date, including howitzers, ammunition, artillery support equipment and grenade launchers.
Denmark plans to donate 19 French-made Caesar self-propelled howitzers.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said his country, which is not a NATO member, has decided to send 50 Swedish-made combat vehicles plus a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile system and the Archer artillery system to Ukraine.
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