Ukraine appealed Thursday for its Western allies to send tanks to help Ukrainian forces battle Russian forces, but Germany and the United States so far are balking at supplying the fighting vehicles.
In a joint statement, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov expressed gratitude toward 50 countries that have helped strengthen Ukraine’s defenses, but they said the Russian military has a “substantial quantitative advantage in troops, weapons and military equipment.”
The Ukrainian officials said one of the most pressing needs in fighting off the Russian invasion that began nearly a year ago is to provide Ukraine with modern armored vehicles and give Ukrainian troops better firing and maneuverability capabilities with Western tanks.
“We guarantee that we will use these weapons responsibly and exclusively for the purposes of protecting the territorial integrity of Ukraine within internationally recognized borders,” the ministers said.
A U.S. official who spoke to The Associated Press and a German official who spoke to Reuters said Germany would allow the Leopard 2 tanks to be sent to Ukraine if the United States sends its Abrams tanks, which it has not agreed to do.
New German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, in welcoming U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Berlin, said German weapons systems sent to Ukraine have proved effective, but he did not mention the Leopard 2 tanks.
“We will continue in the future, together with our partners, to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom, territorial independence and sovereignty,” Pistorius said.
Austin is hosting another coordination meeting of Ukraine’s Western allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday. He said that “we’ll renew our united commitment to support Ukraine’s self-defense for the long haul” but didn’t mention specific new equipment.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokeswoman voiced U.S. support for Ukraine if it attempts to take back its Crimean Peninsula that Russia seized in 2014.
Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said, “They have every right to take that back. Crimea is part of Ukraine. We’ve made that very clear from the beginning. If they decide to conduct an operation in Crimea, that is well in their bounds.”
At Friday’s meeting, the United States is expected to announce a new aid package totaling more than $2 billion that includes Stryker armored vehicles but not the Abrams tanks.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters Wednesday that Ukraine needs equipment to help it break through entrenched Russian lines. But he said the Abrams tanks would not be the best aid to provide at this time, pointing to potential challenges in using and maintaining them.
“One of the things that Secretary Austin has been very focused on is that we should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and that they over the long term can’t afford, because it’s not helpful,” Kahl said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted his thanks Thursday to Estonia and Sweden for their announcements of new military aid packages.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said her government was sending howitzers, grenade launchers and ammunition in its “biggest aid package of heavy weapons so far to Ukraine.”
Zelenskyy called the aid “investment into our common victory.”
Sweden said Thursday it was sending armored infantry fighting vehicles and anti-tank weapons as part of a $419 million package.
“Military support to Ukraine is absolutely crucial,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told a news conference. “Ukraine’s wishes in terms of what they want carries a lot of weight in our decision.”
European Council President Charles Michel said Thursday he was traveling to Kyiv to meet with Zelenskyy and other officials.
In a video posted to Twitter, Michel said Ukrainians are “fighting for their land, they are fighting for their future and the future of their children,” as well as “our common European values and principles.”
“They need and deserve our support and that’s why again we’ll discuss with President Zelenskyy and his team what are the concrete measures we can develop in order to make sure they are stronger and more powerful,” Michel said.