US and Germany go to war over tanks for Ukraine

  • Germany’s Panther tanks are considered more suitable for Ukraine
  • All eyes are on Germany as defense chiefs meet on Friday
  • Austin in Germany to meet new defense minister
  • Russian Wagner mercenaries claim to capture the village

KYIV/BERLIN, Jan 19 (Reuters) – Ukraine on Thursday pleaded with the West to send heavy tanks as the defense chiefs of the United States and Germany presided over a standoff over weapons that could decide the fate of the war.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Germany on Thursday to meet with new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, shortly after Pistorius took office.

The next day the two will gather dozens of allies at the US Ramstein Air Base to pledge arms to Ukraine, a meeting billed as an opportunity to deliver arms to turn the tide of the war in 2023.

Billions of dollars worth of military aid is expected, but the meeting will be considered a failure unless it produces a major commitment of heavy tanks, which Kiev says will be needed to stave off Russian attacks and recapture occupied territory.

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

“The question of tanks for Ukraine should be closed soon,” he said. “We are paying for the stagnation of the lives of our Ukrainian people, which should not be the case.”

A major tank standoff between Washington and Berlin is to be resolved, which has so far prevented the Allies from sending Leopard 2 tanks, the servants of armies across Europe.

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Washington and many Western allies say the Leopards — which Germany produced by the thousands during the Cold War and exported to its allies — are the only viable option available in sufficient numbers.

A German government source said Berlin would lift its objections if Washington sent its own Abrams tanks. U.S. officials say the Abrams is unsuitable for Ukraine because it runs on turbine engines that use too much fuel to be delivered to the frontline for Kyiv’s strained logistics system.

Poland and Finland have already said they would send the Panthers if Germany lifts its veto, and other countries have indicated they are ready to do so. Britain stepped up the pressure last week by breaking a ban on heavy tanks and providing a squadron from its Challengers fleet, although far fewer of these are available than the Panthers.

Germany is reluctant to send offensive weapons, which are thought to escalate the conflict. With Russia showing no sign of backing down from its offensive against Ukraine, many of its Western allies say the concern is misplaced.

Colin Kall, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said Wednesday that Abrams tanks are unlikely to be included in Washington’s next massive $2 billion military aid package, which will be preceded by Stryker and Bradley armored vehicles.

Not there yet

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Call said. “The Abrams tank is a very complex piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s difficult to train. It has a jet engine.”

Germany has said the tank decision is the first item on Pistorius’ agenda to replace Christine Lambrecht, who resigned as defense minister this week. At a ceremony after his inauguration, Pistorius pledged support to Ukraine, including military hardware, but gave no details.

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“These are not normal times, we have a war in Europe. Russia is waging a brutal war of destruction against a sovereign country, Ukraine,” he said.

Ukraine, which relies primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants, says the new tanks will give its troops the mobile firepower to repel Russian troops in decisive battles.

Western tanks have more effective armor and better guns than their Soviet-era counterparts, which killed hundreds on both sides during the 11-month war in Ukraine.

In the first months of Russia’s “special military operation”, fighting has intensified in the south and east of Ukraine after Russia’s initial offensive from the north aimed at seizing Kiev was repulsed.

After major Ukrainian gains in the second half of 2022, the frontline has largely frozen over the past two months, with neither side making major gains despite heavy casualties in intense trench warfare.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, the Russian mercenary force that played a key role in the fighting near the eastern city of Pakmut, said on Thursday that his forces had captured the village of Klishchivka on the outskirts of Pakmut. Kyiv has previously denied that the settlement collapsed. Reuters could not confirm the situation there.

Prigozhin, who promised to pardon convicts from Russian prisons into a privately-run force outside regular military command, complained last week that his fighters were not given enough credit by top officials.

Reporting by Andreas Ringe in Berlin and Reuters; Written by Grant McCool and Himani Sarkar; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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