Friction behind the smiles at defence chiefs meeting as Ukraine tank saga rolls on | World News


There was a sense of friction behind the unified smiles and handshakes at a meeting of allies to pledge more weapons for Ukraine.

Kyiv has been asking its Western backers for months to donate hundreds of modern battle tanks to bolster the ability of its armed forces to launch offensive operations against entrenched Russian positions.

The gathering on Friday of more than 50 nations at a US air base in Germany came at a key moment to respond to this request.

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The UK stepped-up, though its hollowed-out forces could only spare 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks.

Poland said it was ready to send a number of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks, but Germany itself – the country with the key to unlock significant numbers of the weapon – blinked.

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A Leopard 2A6 battle tank

Instead of any announcement by Berlin there was indecision, despite weeks of mounting pressure on Chancellor Olaf’s Scholz from his NATO partners to cross over what had previously been a red line.

Keen to paper over any cracks, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, convener of the Ukraine Contact Group meeting, and his top military officer General Mark Milley insisted the allies were as united as ever.

“I think that over my 43 years in uniform, this is the most unified I’ve ever seen NATO,” declared General Milley.

But they also stressed the challenge faced by Ukraine – and the need to ensure military equipment and training provides the capability required to conduct complicated operations drawing on a combination of tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and artillery.

Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, left, gestures as he talks to Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, right, prior to the meeting of the 'Ukraine Defense Contact Group' at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.
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Mr Reznikov with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

“This year it will be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” General Milley said in a joint press conference at the end of the meeting at the Ramstein base.

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“That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it will be very very difficult.”

With Russia rearming and training newly mobilised troops for what many Western and Ukrainian officials anticipate will be a new wave of offensives by the spring, time is not on Ukraine’s side.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks via video link during a meeting of ministers of defence at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss how to help Ukraine defend itself, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine January 20, 2023. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS
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Ukraine’s leaders say modern Western weaponry is vital for them to win the war

This point was stressed by President Zelenskyy, who spoke via video link to the assembled defence ministers.

“Time remains a Russian weapon. We have to speed up,” he said.

“Time must become our common weapon, just like air defence and artillery, armoured vehicles and tanks.”

But Germany, which has been criticised in the past for being too slow in giving lethal assistance to Ukraine, does not want to be rushed, especially in a week when its defence minister was forced to resign.

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A new man, Boris Pistorius, was only appointed to replace her a couple of days ago; and he was the one left to defend the German position.

“We don’t fear anything. We just have a responsibility for our population in Germany and in Europe and we have to balance all the pros and contras before we decide things like that,” Mr Pistorius told reporters, speaking in English.

He said a decision should come soon – a sign that this tank saga has more miles yet to roll.



This story originally Appeared on skynews

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