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Ramstein talks: No decision on German tanks for Ukraine

January 20, 2023

US Defense Secretary Austin has said Germany would continue to exercise leadership, despite Berlin not yet approving its Leopard 2 tanks for delivery to Ukraine.

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Pistorius denied Berlin was standing in the way of a united coalition behind sending the tanksImage: Wolfgang Rattay/REUTERS

Western allies failed to reach a decision on supplying powerful battle tanks to Ukraine at a meeting at the United States Ramstein air base in Germany on Friday.

Lloyd Austin, the US defense secretary, said after the Ukraine Contact Group meeting, "Ukraine is not dependent on a single platform."

Austin, who hosted the meeting, said allies gave pledges for large amounts of other weapons.

"What we're really focused on is making sure that Ukraine has the capability that it needs to be successful right now," Austin said.

Germany has been at the center of the tank debate. Ukraine has said it wants German-made Leopard and US M1 Abrams tanks.

The country's new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, said Berlin would "balance all the pros and contras before we decide things like that... I am very sure that there will be a decision in the short term, but I don't know how the decision will look."

Berlin has yet to give the go-ahead to Leopard-owning allies like Poland or Finland, who desire to send them to Ukraine.

"Ukraine is running out of personnel, it's running out of weapons, every day counts, they are bleeding," Roderich Kiesewetter of Germany's opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) and former Bundeswehr general staff officer, told DW. "And I believe that the European credibility is dying out," he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv would continue to push for modern heavy armor. 

"Yes, we will still have to fight for the delivery of modern tanks, but every day we make it more obvious that there is no alternative to taking a decision about tanks," he said.

This live updates article has been closed. You can read below how the day unfolded.

Zelenskyy says Ukraine to continue push for modern tanks

Ukraine's president says it would continue to fight to get battle tanks from its allies. 

"Every day, we make it more obvious that there is no alternative to taking a decision about tanks," Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an evening video address.

Ukraine's allies did not decide whether German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks or US M1 Abrams tanks should be sent to Kyiv.

Zelenskyy said the outcome of the Ramstein meeting would strengthen Ukraine's resilience.

"Yes, we will still have to fight for the delivery of modern tanks," he said.

Top Democrat on US Armed Services Committee says Germany must be given time

It is not "fair to criticize" Germany for taking time to consider whether to give Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Adam Smith, who leads Democrats on the US House Armed Services Committee, told DW.

He said while Ukraine's allies want Russia defeated, they also don't want a "direct conflict."

"I don't think it's a fair criticism to say that Germany has dragged its feet just because you know somebody in the process said well, you ought to send him that you ought to send it now," Smith said.

"There's a calculation that goes into this that a lot of people don't pay attention to," he added.

He said Russian President Vladimir Putin has been threatening to escalate the war. 

"You know, what is that escalatory point at which it runs a higher risk of getting into that direct conflict?"

"So I think, people who just look at this and go gosh Germany, they should send them whatever they want, whatever they want and not even think about it...It is a more difficult calculation than I think a lot of people are willing to admit," Smith said.

Ukraine says it will eventually receive what it needs

Ukraine says that while it may wait to get the German-made Leopard 2 tanks it wants, it believes they will be delivered in the future.

"We are getting stronger," Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

"And everything that we haven't received yet, we will receive," he added.

The meeting of the Ukrainian contact group at Ramstein air base did result in a broad consensus that more military aid needs to be sent to Ukraine.

It, however, took no decision on the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

US general says long predicts long fight ahead  

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley expressed doubt that Ukraine would succeed in driving Russian troops out of its territory this year.

"From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year, it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from all, every inch of... Russian-occupied Ukraine," he said after a meeting of Ukrainian allies at Ramstein air base in Germany.

He said a lot of work lies ahead to assist the Ukrainians in using weapons its allies have provided ahead of the spring offensive against Russia.

In the longer term, he said, "this is going to have to get a negotiating table at some point in order to bring this to a conclusion."

Milley said that could only happen if Ukraine is free and its territory is intact.

Germany remains 'reliable ally'

Germany is a "reliable ally and has been for a very long time," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters when pressed on Berlin's role. "I truly believe that they'll continue to be a reliable ally going forward," he added.

He noted that Germany hosted "39,000 of my troops," as well as civilian dependents.

Austin said Germany was essential in helping to train Ukrainian soldiers.

"Germany continues to open the doors and make the training areas facilities available for us to continue to work that we need to do, and, Germany is also training troops…they have a big oar in the water."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also said that Germany was one of the allies providing the most support to Ukraine. "Artillery, ammunition, air defense systems and now also Marder infantry fighting vehicles: Germany is really leading the way in supporting Ukraine in many, many areas," he said. 

Austin announces military aid for Ukraine

The US defense secretary, who hosted the meeting, said the focus of the meeting was to "provide the capability that Ukraine needs to be successful in the near term." 

He added that this meant not focusing on a "single platform," and listed a whole list of military aid that allies announced they were going to provide to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian military has requested hundreds of American-made M1 Abrams and German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks, but Austin said, "I don't have any announcements to make on M1 tanks." 

Earlier, Germany's new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said that while there was no resolution yet, "we will make our decisions as soon as possible." 

He said he had ordered the ministry to look into the tank stocks Germany has so he can be prepared for a possible green light and be able to "act immediately."

Despite requests from Ukraine, Germany has yet to agree to supply Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv or allow other countries, such as Poland, to provide the German-made tanks from their own supplies.

Poland says coalition forming to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said he was confident efforts to provide battle tanks to Ukraine would succeed.

He said, however, a meeting of NATO and defense leaders at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany took no decision on the matter. 

"Hope comes from the fact that... defense ministers of 15 countries met on the sidelines of today's conference and we talked about this topic," Blaszczak told reporters in Ramstein.

"I am convinced that coalition building will end in success."

Poland is one of the countries putting pressure on Berlin to supply Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv or allow other countries to provide the German-made tanks from their own supplies.

US wants Ukraine's allies to 'dig deeper'

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin invited the members of the Ukraine Contact Group to the conference at Ramstein, his country's largest air base outside the US, and urged them to "dig deeper" into their stocks to supply Ukraine with the weapons it needs to repel Russia's invasion.

Attendees included Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Resnikov and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Representatives from states not members of NATO were also present, as they were in the past two meetings at Ramstein.

Zelenskyy urges agreement on military aid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking via video link at the start of the meeting, urged the allies to "speed up" arms deliveries.

"Time must become our weapon. The Kremlin must lose," he said.

He asked attendees to make it the "Ramstein of tanks," calling for future gatherings to "go down in history as a Ramstein of F-16s and long-range missiles".

"It is in your power to guarantee such artillery," he told those attending the talks.

Germany to check availability of Leopard 2 tanks

Germany's new Defense Minister Boris Pistoriussaid Berlin had yet to decide to send Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine but added that officials would examine their stocks for possible delivery.

"Today, we still cannot say when a decision will be taken, and what the decision will be, when it comes to the Leopard tank," Pistorius said on the sidelines of a meeting at United States Air Base Ramstein on coordinating military aid to Ukraine.

The impression that "there is a united coalition and that Germany is standing in the way is wrong," Pistorius said, adding that "there are many allies who say we share the view that I have put forward here."

"There are good reasons for the delivery and there are good reasons against it," he added.

Pressure is mounting on Germany to send its Leopard 2 battle tanks to help Ukraine fight off the Russian invasion and to allow its allies to do so as well.

Berlin's permission also is required for other countries to send German-made weapons to Ukraine.

New military aid for Ukraine

Several countries pledged new military aid even before the meeting started on Friday. 

On Friday, Finland announced a €400 million ($433 million) military aid package, its largest to date, including heavy artillery and munitions.

It comes after the US released a list of $2.5 billion worth of supplies, including Bradley fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, air defense systems, and tens of thousands of rockets and artillery rounds.

Britain announced it would send 600 Brimstone missiles, Denmark said it would donate 19 French-made Caesar howitzers, and Sweden promised its Archer artillery system.

Poland could send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine even without Germany's re-export approval, a Polish deputy foreign minister said.

"I do not rule out that we are ready to take such a step," Pawel Jablonski told radio station RMF FM. Jablonski was referring to the possibility of sending tanks to Ukraine even if Germany opposes it.

lo/rt (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)