Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy turned up the pressure on Germany to supply battle tanks to Ukraine, appealing directly to Berlin on January 19 to overcome its reluctance to provide the heavy armor that Kyiv says it needs now on the battlefield.
Zelenskiy addressed Germany’s leaders in an interview with public broadcaster ARD, saying: “In plain language, can you deliver Leopards or not? Then hand them over!”
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He referred to the German-made battle tanks whose transfer to Ukraine from the NATO countries that have them requires Germany’s approval.
“You are grown-up people. You are welcome to talk like this for another six months, but people are dying in our country every day,” Zelenskiy said.
The tanks would be used by Ukraine to defend itself, he added. They would not pass through Russia, “if anyone is worried about that,” he said.
The issue looks set to dominate talks on January 20 between Western allies at the US air base in Ramstein, Germany, which Ukraine expects will result in “strong decisions” and a “powerful package of military support from the United States,” Zelenskiy said late on January 19.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Germany’s newly appointed defense minister, Boris Pistorius, in Berlin ahead of the January 20 meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. Austin was expected to press Pistorius to allow for the transfer of German-made tanks to Ukraine, US officials said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz so far held out against sending Leopard tanks over concern that it could provoke Moscow, which has warned against an “extremely dangerous” escalation if the West sends longer-range weapons to Kyiv.
US Representative Gregory Meeks (Democrat-New York), the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told AFP on January 19 that Scholz has told US congressmen in Davos that Germany would supply heavy tanks to Ukraine if the United States sends tanks too. German government sources have told Reuters that Berlin wants the Americans to specifically send Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
But US officials say the Abrams is not the right tank for Ukraine since it runs on turbine engines that use too much fuel for Kyiv’s strained logistics system to keep them supplied at the front.
Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Zelenskiy, took issue with Germany’s approach.
“True leadership is about leading by example, not about looking up to others. There are no taboos,” Podolyak said on Twitter. “From Washington to London, from Paris to Warsaw, you hear one thing: Ukraine needs tanks. Tanks — the key to end the war properly. Time to stop trembling at Putin and take the final step.”
Earlier on January 19, Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, made an urgent plea on Telegram for tanks and other heavy weapons.
“We have no time. The world does not have this time,” Yermak said. “The question of tanks for Ukraine must be closed as soon as possible. Just like the questions of additional air defense systems.”
He added: “We are paying for the slowness with the lives of our Ukrainian people. It shouldn’t be like that.”
Several Western allies earlier on January 19 said they support sending modern heavy weaponry to Ukraine, including tanks.
European Council President Charles Michel said he “firmly believes” tanks must be delivered to Ukraine, and a group of nine nations including Britain, Poland, and the Netherlands pledged to pursue providing an “unprecedented set of donations” including main battle tanks to help Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
Michel commented on Twitter after a visit to Kyiv that included a meeting with Zelenskiy.
“We hear your message. You need more air defense and artillery systems, more ammunition,” he said said. “I firmly believe that tanks must be delivered. We want to support you because we are aware that the next few weeks may be decisive for what comes next.”
Representatives of nine countries, meanwhile, said in a joint statement they “commit to collectively pursuing delivery of an unprecedented set of donations including main battle tanks, heavy artillery, air defense, ammunition, and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine’s defense.”
The joint statement followed a meeting in Tallinn of the defense ministers of Britain, Estonia, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania, and representatives from Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Slovakia.
WATCH: Western-supplied weapons, including self-propelled howitzers, are helping Ukrainian troops in their efforts to recapture territories occupied by enemy troops.
Amid the discussions over sending tanks, a senior NATO commander warned that they would not be a “silver bullet” for Ukraine.
“There is not a particular weapon system that is a silver bullet. A balance of all systems is needed,” said Supreme Allied Commander in Europe Christopher Cavoli after a meeting in Brussels of NATO military chiefs.
But the US general added that “it’s clearly the case that modern Western technology is outperforming Russian technology” on the battlefield in Ukraine.
The head of NATO’s military committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, also speaking in Brussels, steered clear of calling for the equipment to be sent to Kyiv but said that “if the Russians are fighting with tanks, the Ukrainians need tanks as well.”
With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and AFP