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Ukraine Defense Minister Tells VOA: Troops Will Train on German Tanks in Poland


FILE - A Leopard 2 tank crosses a river during a German army, the Bundeswehr, training and information day in Munster, Germany, October 9, 2015.
FILE - A Leopard 2 tank crosses a river during a German army, the Bundeswehr, training and information day in Munster, Germany, October 9, 2015.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov says Ukrainian forces will train to use Leopard 2 battle tanks, despite Western allies’ failure Friday to reach a decision on whether to supply Kyiv with the German-made tanks.

Reznikov told VOA’s Ukrainian Service Friday that Ukraine’s troops will train on the tanks in Poland and described the development as a breakthrough.

"Countries that already have Leopard tanks can begin training missions for our tank crews. We will start with that, and we will go from there. I hope, Germany will follow their process, conduct their internal consultations, and will arrive at the decision to transfer tanks. I am optimistic regarding this because the first step has been made. We will start training programs for our tank crews on Leopards 2,” Reznikov said.

A senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, expressed his frustration with the pace of the military support the country’s allies are providing and has urged them to “think faster.”

"You'll help Ukraine with the necessary weapons anyway and realize that there is no other option to end the war except the defeat of Russia," Mykhailo Podolyak posted on Twitter. "But today's indecision is killing more of our people. Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster."

Earlier Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army General Mark Milley said no Leopard tanks would be given to Ukraine by Germany at this time. They made the remarks at a briefing at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany following an international conference on Ukraine support.

The meeting was held amid Kyiv's frustration with the dissent over sending tanks to Ukraine as the full-scale invasion reaches the 11-month mark. Zelenskyy made direct pleas for tanks at the meeting.

Reznikov said he was pleased with the results, “I consider that the key concepts of this meeting today were unity, timelines of delivering aid, and enhancement of the capabilities of the armed forces of Ukraine to continue counter-offensive operations in order to liberate temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. All the previously announced [military aid] packages have been confirmed. In addition, some new packages were discussed behind closed doors, but I am not at liberty to announce them just yet. This is inspiring. I am very satisfied.”

Austin denied there is a link between Germany not sending its Leopard tanks and the U.S. not committing its Abrams tanks. "What we're really focused on is making sure that Ukraine has a capability that it needs to be successful right now. So, we have a window of opportunity here — between now and in the spring … whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive," he said.

The new U.S. aid package, worth $2.5 billion, brings American military assistance to Ukraine to almost $27 billion since Russia's invasion nearly a year ago.

People hold signs referencing Leopard tanks being sent to Ukraine, at a demonstration in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 20, 2023.
People hold signs referencing Leopard tanks being sent to Ukraine, at a demonstration in Berlin, Germany, Jan. 20, 2023.

Austin reaffirmed the allies' commitment to defending Ukraine.

"It is not only about Ukraine security, it is about European security and about global security," he said. He expressed confidence the group will remain united and continue to build momentum.

Milley echoed Austin's comment and noted this is the most unified he has seen NATO in his 40 years in uniform. He said the U.S. assistance package, along with unified donations from other countries, signify their resolve to defend Ukraine.

"As much as it takes, as long as it takes in order to keep Ukraine free, independent and sovereign," he said.

However, Milley said it would be very hard for Ukraine to drive Russia's invading forces from the country this year, and he stressed the importance of solidifying Ukraine's defensive front.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that the conflict in Ukraine is in “a state of deadlock.” However, the agency warned that there is “a realistic possibility of local Russian advances around Bakhmut.”

The ministry said in an intelligence update posted on Twitter that the heaviest fighting recently has been in three Ukraine locations – northeastern Kremina, the Donetsk oblast in Bakhmut, and Zaporizhzhia oblast.

In an interview with VOA's Patsy Widakuswara on Friday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the NATO alliance remains "very, very solidly behind Ukraine." However, he said NATO allies, as "sovereign nations, they get to decide because they have to have their own national security needs, they have to consider as well, just like we do."

Zelenskyy said in his evening address Friday that Ukraine will have to fight to secure a supply of modern heavy armor.

"Every day we make it more obvious there is no alternative to making the decision on tanks," he said.

Moscow said Friday any additional tanks supplied to Ukraine will have no effect on the course of the conflict.

"We have repeatedly said that such supplies will not fundamentally change anything but will add problems for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

He said the West will "regret its delusion" that Ukraine can win on the battlefield.

In Kyiv on Friday, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, Lindsey Graham and Sheldon Whitehouse met with Zelenskyy and Ukrainian military officials. VOA's Kyiv correspondent Anna Chernikova reported that during a news conference, the senators asserted the U.S. should provide tanks and long-range weapons to Ukraine to stop Russia's invasion.

They expressed their conviction that Ukraine needs this help now, because time is not on the side of Ukraine and its allies. They also said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin is not stopped now, NATO countries would be next.

The senators appealed to their voters, asserting that their money is necessary to restore the world order. The main message to Ukrainians was that the U.S. would stay with them for as long as it takes.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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