No decision on sending tanks to Ukraine as Zelenskyy urges allies to 'speed up' military aid

Emma Murphy reports on the supply of tanks to Ukraine

A conference in Germany ended without a commitment by Western allies to send more battle tanks to Ukraine, despite a call from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to speed up the delivery of military support in his country’s struggle against Russia. Speaking via video to defence ministers at a conference at Ramstein, Germany, Mr Zelenskyy said “hundreds of thank yous are not hundreds of tanks” and called on them to agree in “principle” to supply his forces with modern battle tanks.

Despite his plea, the Ramstein meeting ended with no resolution on supplying more tanks to Ukraine, as Germany had yet to make a decision on the provision of Leopard tanks to Kyiv.Germany would need to consent to the tanks being given to Ukraine, which is not a member of Nato. Despite pleas from Ukrainian officials, Germany has so far resisted mounting pressure to quickly supply the tanks to Kyiv, or give the green light for other countries, such as Poland, to deliver them from their own supplies.

The UK is the only Nato ally who has so far agreed to send them, in the form of 14 British Army Challenger 2s.

US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, commended the UK for agreeing to send British Army Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, but did not announce any commitments by other countries to provide Kyiv with battle tanks.

Mr Austin said Germany had “contributed a lot to this to this campaign…" as he refused to criticise Berlin for failing to make a decision on sending tanks to Ukraine.

Speaking earlier, Mr Zelenskyy had told defence leaders from 50 countries: “We have to speed up. Time must become our weapon, just like air defence and artillery, armoured vehicles and tanks, which we are negotiating about with you and which will actually make a victory.”

“You can start this policy today. It is in your power to make a Ramstein of tanks. Not to bargain about different numbers of tanks but to open (the) principle (of) supply that will stop Russian evil.”

A Leopard 2 tank. Credit: AP

Ukraine needs at least 300 tanks to keep Russia from advancing in the Donbas and Zaporizhzhia province, as well as for a possible counteroffensive in the country's southeast, analysts say. 

Despite tank debate remaining unresolved, Polish defence minister Mariusz Blaszczak called the meeting a “good discussion among allies” and said the matter would be discussed again at future talks.

Mr Austin said the 11-month-long conflict has reached a “decisive moment”.

“Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip. This is not a moment to slow down. It is a time to dig deeper,” he said.

It follows an announcement at the weekend that the UK is to become the first nation to respond to Mr Zelenskyy’s call for modern western tanks with the dispatch of 14 British Army Challenger 2s.

Defence ministers and military chiefs from around 50 nations are to take part in the talks. Credit: AP

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been reluctant to sign off sending tanks to Kyiv over concerns about the likely reaction in Moscow.

Meanwhile, a Kremlin spokesman said the deployment of Western tanks would trigger “unambiguously negative” consequences.

Poland’s prime minister has said he would be willing to send Leopards 2s to Ukraine without Germany’s approval due to the urgency of the situation.

Mateusz Morawiecki told Polskie Radio 24 “consent was of secondary importance” when it came to the German-made tanks because of Ukraine’s need for military aid.

“We will either obtain this consent quickly, or we will do it ourselves,” Mr Morawiecki added.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin, left, meets his new German counterpart Boris Pistorius Credit: Michael Sohn/AP

The deadlock has led to growing frustration in Kyiv and among some other Nato allies, with former Soviet bloc states such as Estonia and Lithuania showing increasing signs of impatience.

At a meeting with ministers from a number of eastern members of the alliance in Estonia on Thursday, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the time had come to give Ukraine the support it needed to drive out Russian forces.

“It is time to turn the momentum that the Ukrainians have achieved in pushing back Russia into gains and making sure Russia understands that the purpose now is to push them back out of Ukraine,” he said.

Mr Wallace said that in addition to its latest support package, including the Challenger 2s and other heavy armour, the UK would be sending a further 600 Brimstone precision-guided missiles.

The US on Thursday announced a $2.5 billion (£2 billion) Ukraine aid package which includes 90 Stryker combat vehicles, 59 Bradley fighting vehicles and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition.

The more heavily armoured and tracked Bradleys and the medium-armoured Strykers will provide Ukraine “with two brigades of armoured capability”, the Pentagon said in a statement.

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