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NATO leaders talk tanks, ammo and support for Ukraine

Published April 21, 2023last updated April 21, 2023

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the talks would "stay focused on the key capabilities Ukraine needs right now." He mentioned ammunition, and also non-military support gear. US and EU tank plans were also made.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius during the Ukraine Defense Contact group meeting at Ramstein US Air Base in Germany
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin touted the Ukraine Defense Contact Group's efforts to procure security assistance amid Russia's ongoing invasionImage: Heiko Becker/REUTERS

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday told members of the so-called Ukraine Defense Contact Group that Western support for Ukraine had decisively influenced Russia's invasion of its neighbor. 

"Our collective efforts have made a huge difference on the battlefield," Austin said at the US Ramstein Air Base in western Germany.

The meeting took place a year after the first one of its kind, bringing together NATO defense leaders and representatives from other countries to discuss the security situation and how best to help. 

Western allies bolster support for Ukraine

Austin praised both Ukraine and attendees for their staying power, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin had expected both Ukraine and NATO's support for it to soon crumble. 

"I saw a coalition that stood firm and united," Austin said. "And all of that is just as true at Ramstein today as a year ago." 

He said the Contact Group, set up one year ago, had secured more than $55 billion (€50 billion) in security assistance for Ukraine, more than $35 billion of which had come from the US.

Austin also thanked Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov for attending and noted that for the first time, the Finnish representative was participating with his country a fully-fledged NATO member. He said he believed the same would soon apply for Sweden. Both of the previously neutral Nordic countries sought NATO membership after Russia's invasion. 

A general view of Ukraine Defense Contact group meeting at Ramstein US Air Base, Germany
Ministers and representatives from about 50 nations gathered for the US-led meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air BaseImage: Heiko Becker/REUTERS

'Air defense, ammunition, and enablers'

Austin said the focus of the talks would be to "stay focused on the key capabilities Ukraine needs right now." 

He named three in particular, air defense, ammunition and "enablers," meaning non-lethal support equipment or supplies or vehicles that can help troops in the field. 

He also praised European efforts to ramp up ammunition production, as a large-scale and long-lasting conflict using modern armaments laid bare how little ammunition production capabilities the Western world has needed in recent decades.

Countries were looking at ways to increase their output "not just for the near-term, but for the medium- and long-term," Austin said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the goal was to give Ukraine the gear it needs to recapture more ground if it launches a spring or summer counteroffensive. 

"I'm confident that they will now be in a position to be able to liberate even more land," Stoltenberg told journalists when asked if Kyiv has what it needs to successfully execute its offensive.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media at Ramstein Air Base
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is confident that Ukraine will be able to recapture more ground if it launches a spring or summer counteroffensiveImage: Heiko Becker/REUTERS

Tanks too, Leopards and Abrams alike

Although the US host dwelled on the issue less, tanks also featured in the talks, as did the issue of field maintenance of existing equipment. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius had sought to focus on this earlier on Friday, noting how wear and tear was usually far worse when being used in combat. 

Germany, Poland and Ukraine signed a trilateral agreement to set up a hub to repair Leopard (or Gepard) tanks used in Ukraine to fight Russian forces. 

Pistorius said German deliveries of the tanks were progressing swiftly, without going into specifics, while Denmark and the Netherlands said on the eve of the talks that they plan to provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2A4 battle tanks. 

And the first sign of US Abrams M1 tanks — whose delivery to Ukraine was announced the same day as that of the German Leopards — reaching European soil also emerged. 

Some 31 Abrams tanks will arrive at Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany at the end of May, US officials said, and troops would begin training a couple of weeks later. Similar training programs for Ukrainian troops learning to operate new gear have taken place at Grafenwöhr near the Czech border.

Meanwhile, Canada said early on Friday that it would send Ukraine equipment worth C$39 million (roughly US$29 million or €26 million) including 40 new sniper rifles and 16 radio sets. Defense Minister Anita Anand also announced a separate donation to a NATO fund to help Kyiv in its war against Russia. 

Ukraine's Western allies meet at Ramstein air base

Stoltenberg back from Kyiv

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Ramstein, Germany, on Friday that member states agreed in principle that Ukraine should join the bloc. 

Stoltenberg had just returned from a trip to Kyiv where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for his country's accession to be fast-tracked. 

The NATO head said the priority for the moment was "that Ukraine prevails" against Russia and ensure that Kyiv also had the "deterrence to prevent new attacks" thereafter.

One of the typical prerequisites for joining NATO is not being in a war.

Germany's Defense Minister Pistorius had already said that Ukraine's NATO accession was unlikely amid continuing conflict with Russia. In terms of the agenda for Friday's talks, Pistorius said it was a case of "first things first." 

Stoltenberg also said that Zelenskyy had accepted his invitation to NATO's summit in Vilnius this July during his visit to Kyiv.

NATO's Stoltenberg first Ukraine visit since invasion

Austin says he takes intelligence leak 'very seriously' 

The gathering on Friday was also the first of its kind since sensitive US intelligence about the war in Ukraine and other topics leaked online, allegedly via a young Air National Guard employee in an online chat group. 

"I take this issue very seriously," Austin said at the start of the one-day meeting and again later in Friday afternoon's press conference. "And we will continue to work closely and respectfully with our deeply valued allies and partners."

Austin said that he had spoken to allies about the matter, and "I've been struck by your solidarity and your commitment to reject the efforts to divide us. And we will not let anything fracture our unity." 

How does the US really see the war in Ukraine?

msh/nm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki inspects the site with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal as he receives information from officials during delivering process of the first batch of the Leopard tanks in February, 2023
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