Ukraine says the West must speed up the delivery of weapons as its troops come under increasing pressure from invading Russian forces, ahead of a key meeting of the Ukraine Défense Contact Group of NATO allies in Ramstein, Germany on Friday.
Dozens of civilians have been killed in recent days by Russian missiles. An attack on an apartment block in the city of Dnipro Saturday killed at least 44 people, including several children.
“What happened in Dnipro, the fact that Russia is preparing a new attempt to seize the initiative in the war, the fact that the nature of hostilities at the front requires new decisions in the defense supply, all this only emphasizes how important it is to coordinate our efforts, the efforts of all members of the coalition to defend Ukraine and freedom, and to speed up decision-making,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday.
"A regular meeting in the Ramstein format will be held at the end of the week. We expect fundamental decisions from the coalition of our partners,” he added.
The Ukrainian president, meanwhile, praised Britain’s announcement that it will supply 14 “Challenger 2” tanks to Kyiv. “This is exactly what we need,” Zelenskyy said.
The Challenger 2 is Britain’s main battle tank. The squadron of 14 tanks is part of a large package of military aid, which includes AS90 self-propelled artillery, Bulldog armored vehicles, ammunition, Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, Starstreak air defense systems and medium-range air defense missiles.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov Tuesday dismissed Britain’s supply of tanks to Ukraine. “The special military operation will continue, these tanks… will burn, just like the rest. The goals of the special military operation will be achieved,” Peskov told the Reuters news agency.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told lawmakers Monday this was Britain’s most significant package of combat power provided to Ukraine to date.
“"We believe that in 2023, increased supplies improve training and strengthening diplomatic resolve will enable Ukraine to be successful against Russia's poorly led and now badly equipped armed forces,” Wallace said.
“Today's package will help accelerate the conclusion of Putin's occupation and all its brutality and ensure that in 2023 and beyond, if necessary, Ukraine retains its momentum,” he added, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pressure on Germany
That momentum depends on other allies also stepping up. Germany is under growing pressure to send Ukraine "Leopard 2” tanks and approve requests from other nations to re-export their German-made tanks.
The Leopard 2 tank is seen as the workhorse of many European armies, and analysts say hundreds could be sent to the Ukrainian frontlines with Berlin’s approval.
“Ukraine needs hundreds of light and battle tanks to conduct a successful offensive in the spring. So, it seems that the British offer is more of a political signal - that the red line on tanks is actually gone,” Liana Fix, a defense analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, told VOA.
“The British political signal might not be enough for Germany to move onto main battle tanks. And Germany is so crucial because the Leopards are really the best and the most numerous tanks available for Ukraine at this point,” Fix said.
‘World War III’
Poland and Finland want to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki offered a warning to Germany.
“Ukraine's defeat may become a prelude to a World War III. Therefore, today there is no reason to block support for Kyiv, to procrastinate. Thus, I call for decisive actions by the German government on all sorts of weapons to be delivered to Ukraine,” Morawiecki said at an event hosted by the German opposition Christian Democratic Union party in Berlin Tuesday.
European Union Council President Charles Michel voiced his support Wednesday for sending tanks to Ukraine. “The time is now; they urgently need more equipment and I am personally in favor of supplying tanks to Ukraine,” Michel told EU lawmakers.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Wednesday he expected an announcement that further main battle tanks would be sent to Ukraine.
“Definitely, there is momentum. Unfortunately, that the momentum has formed after we’ve seen, again, horrendous civilian deaths… We could do it right now, but we will be waiting for some other imaginary red lines to be crossed, because this is the modus operandi our allies are choosing,” Landsbergis told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Germany is providing Ukraine with Marder armored personnel carriers, a Patriot air defense missile battery, howitzers, anti-aircraft guns and Iris-T surface-to-air missiles.
There are, however, divisions within Germany’s governing coalition over increasing the supply of weapons. The Green party wants to go further in supplying tanks and other heavy weapons to Kyiv. “We are at a different and a new and a next step. And as we have done in the past, we will join forces (with allies) also in the upcoming future,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, a member of the Greens, said Tuesday.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appointed Boris Pistorius as his new defense minister Tuesday after the resignation of Christine Lambrecht earlier this week.
In the past, Pistorius has spoken out in favor of helping Ukraine defend itself. Speaking after his appointment Wednesday, Pistorius would not be drawn on any decisions over sending Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv. “The German army must adapt to a new situation which arose due to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine,” Pistorius told reporters.
Germany is looking to Washington to take the lead, says analyst Fix.
“It’s always step-by-step, it takes a long time until decisions are made. And Germany in any case does not assume a leadership role, but it only acts if the United States acts in parallel. And this reflects Germany's concerns about escalation with Russia,” Fix said.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is due to host a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group of allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday. The participants are expected to coordinate further military aid for Ukraine. The group consists of around 50 allies dedicated to helping Ukraine defend itself.
The meeting sends an important signal, says Fix.
“It also demonstrates that the West is not satisfied with a frozen conflict, with a frozen war, with a preliminary cease-fire – but that the Western alliance sees the necessity for Ukraine to make further great gains,” Fix told VOA.
Some of the information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.