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At Ramstein, Germany stops short of giving Ukraine Leopard tanks, despite mounting pressure from allies

by Asami Terajima January 20, 2023 5:49 PM 3 min read
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov (R), United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (C) and US Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley (L) attend the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at the Ramstein Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate, southwestern Germany on Jan. 20, 2023. (Photo by Arif Akdogan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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Fighting off pressure from allies, Berlin made no decision to provide the long-anticipated Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

"I'm very sure there will be a decision in the short term, but I don't know how the decision will look," German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in southwestern Germany.

Pistorius said that Berlin could move "straight away" if it decides to supply Leopards to Ukraine, as he has already asked his ministry to look into Germany's Leopard tank stocks.

On Jan. 20, defense ministers from some 50 countries met at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss further support for Ukraine. This was the eighth Ramstein summit since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The international meeting comes amid Kyiv's frustration with the long-standing dissent over tanks for Ukraine as the full-scale invasion reaches the 11-month mark.

President Volodymyr Zelensky made direct pleas for tanks at the meeting, saying that "hundreds of thank you are not hundreds of tanks."

Western tanks, particularly the powerful German-made Leopards, would give Ukraine a major equipment advantage over Russia, which relies on old Soviet stock.

After France and the U.K. vowed to supply tanks to Ukraine, the pressure had been mounting for Germany to either provide Leopards, or clear ways for its buyers, such as Poland, to complete their promised transfer of the tanks.

9 European nations commit to upping defense aid to Ukraine as tension high over German Leopard decision

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said earlier on Jan. 19 that his country could supply the Leopards to Ukraine regardless of Berlin's will.

For a while, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has pressed on the alliance members to provide more heavy weapons to Ukraine amid a fierce battle in the eastern Donbas.

He told Reuters on Jan. 18 that the war is at a "pivotal moment" where Kyiv needs a "significant increase" in military support.

NATO members, including Germany, have been reluctant to transfer tanks due to what they described as fears that such a move would lead to a direct confrontation with Russia.

In a Bloomberg interview on Jan. 17, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that "We support Ukraine as long as it is necessary, with all the means that we can use, but also always avoiding that this war is escalating" into a direct Russia-NATO conflict.

Western media reports, citing unnamed U.S. and German officials, that emerged on the eve of the Ramstein meeting revealed that Berlin would provide Leopards if Washington moved to supply its American-made Abrams tanks.

Berlin said on Jan. 19 that it wasn't aware of such a requirement for its possible transfer of Leopards shortly after the reports spurred criticism from Kyiv.

Despite speculations, Ukraine has suggested that Germany would soon greenlight the transfer of Leopards after German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock's visit on Jan. 11.

While Berlin has not confirmed it, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said then that he had "no doubts" that Germany would hand over Kyiv's long-sought Leopard tanks.

Before the Jan. 20 meeting kicked off at the Ramstein Air Base, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov listed three top priorities for Ukraine – more air defense systems, heavy weapons, such as tanks and howitzers, and "systematic" ammunition supplies.

Reznikov also added that repair services for damaged equipment are also vital.

A day prior, nine European nations said they would provide new military aid packages, including tanks, heavy artillery, infantry fighting vehicles, ammunition, and air defense, in what was named the Tallinn Pledge.

Russia, whose forces suffered a string of humiliating defeats in late 2022, claimed that the West would "regret" supplying tanks to Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed at a news conference on Jan. 20 that the West's transfer of tanks would not "fundamentally change anything."

Note from the Author

Hi, this is Asami Terajima.

Thank you for reading my story till the end. The Kyiv Independent team has been selflessly covering Russia's brutal war against Ukraine since day one, doing our best to keep the world informed about the latest developments at home. Please consider supporting the young and driven newsroom by becoming our patron.

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