Ukraine Holds Out Hope for Tanks Amid Growing Frustration With Germany

Pressure grew on Germany on Saturday to authorize the transfer of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, even as Ukrainian officials signaled that they believed it would be only a matter of time before the German-made tanks arrived.

The pressure was coming from several quarters. In a joint statement on Twitter, the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania urged Germany to “provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now.”

They added: “This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly. Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard.”

Some Ukrainian voices were even harsher. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, said that the “indecision is killing more of our people.”

“You’ll help Ukraine with the necessary weapons anyway and realize that there is no other option to end the war,” he wrote on Twitter, adding: “Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster.”

In his overnight address, Mr. Zelensky stressed that time was of the essence.

“We will still have to fight for the supply of modern tanks, but every day we make it more obvious there is no alternative to making the decision on tanks,” he said in the address, adding: “The only thing worth emphasizing is the time, the delivery time. Each agreement must be implemented as quickly as possible.”

Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said that he was “optimistic” that Germany would decide to allow transfers of the Leopards and that his country’s troops would begin training on the tanks in Poland in the meantime.

“Countries that already have Leopard tanks can begin training missions for our tank crews,” Mr. Reznikov told Voice of America’s Ukrainian service on Friday. “We will start with that, and we will go from there.”

Poland’s Defense Ministry did not immediately confirm Mr. Reznikov’s assertion, but Polish officials have been among the most vociferous voices urging Germany to clear the way for Leopards. The Polish government has said it stands ready to send some of its own, though legally it needs Germany to sign off on any such move.

Many Western defense officials meeting in Germany on Friday had hoped to reach a deal on sending the German-made tanks, which are stocked by many European countries and which Ukraine sees as crucial to its war effort. But the meeting ended without a decision from Germany, which so far has resisted sending its own Leopards to Ukraine or giving other countries that have them the necessary approval to export them.

Germany has also pushed for the United States to take the lead by sending some of its most advanced battle tanks, the M1 Abrams, but on Saturday criticism was largely falling on Berlin.

Ukraine’s appeals for tanks and more weapons from the West have taken on greater urgency with the approach of spring, when both sides to the conflict are preparing offensives, officials have said. And Russia’s recent claims to have captured the small towns of Soledar and Klishchiivka — part of a broader push to seize the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine — have added to the growing pressure.

The war overall “is in a state of deadlock,” Britain’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday, but it warned that there was “a realistic possibility of local Russian advances around Bakhmut.”

In recent weeks, the West has pledged increasingly sophisticated weapons for Ukraine, agreeing to send Patriot missile systems and armored fighting vehicles, despite earlier fears that Russia would see the provision of those weapons as a provocation. But Western-made tanks, which are far more powerful than the fighting vehicles, have been a sticking point. Britain this week confirmed it would send a small number of Challenger 2 tanks, as part of wider efforts to persuade other Western nations to offer similar support.

Ukraine’s top military officer, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, has said his forces need at least 300 tanks and 600 infantry fighting vehicles to counter the Russians this spring. But Germany has been reluctant to send in some of its Leopard 2 tanks without Washington’s pledging to send at least a token number of its M1 Abrams tanks, presenting a united front against Russia. Washington has argued against sending Abrams tanks, saying that they use jet fuel and are difficult to maintain. The defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, said Friday that he had no comment on whether that stance would change.

American and German officials made a point on Friday of dismissing any suggestion of acrimony among the allies, though there are subtle signs of growing fissures. Mr. Austin and his German counterpart, Boris Pistorius, denied the Leopard dispute was linked to the Abrams tanks, but provided no explanation for what was stalling a deal, and emphasized that the Leopard tanks could still be sent in the near future.

Mr. Pistorius said he had ordered his ministry to begin an inventory of its Leopard tanks and to prepare to train Ukrainian soldiers in case of a future deal, nothing that he would welcome similar preparations by other European countries.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has been vocal about sending more weapons to Ukraine and was in Kyiv on Friday, said, using an expletive, that he was tired of the circus “surrounding who is going to send tanks and when are they going to send them.”

“To the Germans: Send tanks to Ukraine because they need them. It is in your own national interest that Putin loses in Ukraine,” he wrote on Twitter late Friday. “To the Biden Administration: Send American tanks so that others will follow our lead.”

When asked by a reporter on Friday if he supported Poland’s call to send the Leopards, President Biden was brief. “Ukraine is going to get all the help they need,” he said.

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