As frustration at Germany for seemingly dragging its feet on sending Ukraine advanced Leopard 2 tanks mounted on Saturday, Ukrainian officials indicated that they believedit would be only a matter of time before the sophisticated weapons arrived.
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, though Poland did not immediately confirm that.
“Countries that already have Leopard tanks can begin training missions for our tank crews,” he told Voice of America’s Ukrainian service on Friday. “We will start with that, and we will go from there.”
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 send some of its own tanks, but on Saturday criticism was largely falling on Berlin.
The State of the War
- Western Military Aid: Efforts to arm Kyiv have stepped up in recent weeks as the war enters a critical phase. So far missing from the new military aid infusion pledged by Western nations are American and German-made tanks that Ukraine’s leaders say are desperately needed.
- Helicopter Crash: A helicopter crashed in a fireball in a Kyiv suburb, killing a member of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s cabinet and more than a dozen other people, and dealing a blow to Ukraine’s wartime leadership.
- Dnipro: A Russian strike on an apartment complex in the central Ukrainian city was one of the deadliest for civilians away from the front line since the war began. The attack prompted renewed calls for Moscow to be charged with war crimes.
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.”
Poland’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation that it would host the training of Ukrainian troops, but Polish officials have urged 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.
Ukraine’s appeals for tanks and more weapons from the West have taken on greater urgency ahead of an expected Russian offensive in the spring. 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 growing pressure.
While the war overall “is in a state of deadlock,” Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday, it warned that there was “a realistic possibility of local Russian advances around Bakhmut.”
Mr. Zelensky, who had appealed in a video address to the defense officials gathered on Friday in Germany to make a decision on tanks, 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 his overnight address, adding: “The only thing worth emphasizing is the time, the delivery time. Each agreement must be implemented as quickly as possible.”
Several of Ukraine’s allies also urged quick action on Saturday while continuing to put pressure on Germany. In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania urged Germany to “provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now.”
“This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly,” they said in statements posted on Twitter. “Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard.”
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. 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 announcement on whether that stance would change.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has been vocal about sending more weapons to Ukraine and was in Kyiv on Friday, said he was “tired of the s***show 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 Leopards, President Biden was brief. “Ukraine is going to get all the help they need,” he said.