Commitments by the United States and Germany to send advanced battle tanks to counter Russian aggression were hailed as “just the beginning” by a senior official in Ukraine, who said hundreds of tanks were needed, while Kiev dropped its call for fighter jets. renewed.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, made the remarks as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy praised the Western allies’ decision and urged them to deliver large quantities of tanks quickly.
“The key now is speed and volumes. Speed in training our forces, speed in delivering tanks to Ukraine. The numbers in tank support,” he said in his late-night video address on Wednesday.
Joe Biden approved sending 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine after weeks of speculation. The reversal of the US position came after Germany confirmed it would make 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks available to Ukraine and allow partner countries to re-export other tanks.
The Berlin decision unlocks offers from Finland, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland and Norway to supply Ukraine with their own German-made leopards.
Zelenskiy celebrated the “extremely good news” and described the US decision to send Abrams as a “very powerful step”. “There is a tank coalition. A decision has been made to start supplying tanks for our defense. Modern tanks,’ he said.
Western officials believe that the delivery of 100 tanks could be enough to make a difference in terms of holding out in the event of a Russian spring offensive and then retaking territory. The first Leopard 2 tanks are expected to arrive in three months.
Zelenskiy also said he had spoken with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and called for the supply of long-range missiles and aircraft to supplement the commitments made by the United States and Germany.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he had also discussed fighter jets with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, a request that has been repeatedly unsuccessfully made to NATO allies.
Yuriy Sak, who advises Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, said fighter jets would be “the next big hurdle”. “If we get them, the benefits on the battlefield will be huge,” he said. “It’s not just F-16s. Fourth generation aircraft, this is what we want.”
Previous calls for US-made jets have not paid off, but the Dutch government recently said it would consider handing over some of its 50 aircraft in consultation with allies. Ukraine has so far only received Soviet-era aircraft and spare parts for its air force.
In public statements, Washington and Berlin had denied any connection between their respective decisions on whether or not to send tanks, although according to media reports, German officials had made it clear in private that the Leopards depended on the US making a similar commitment.
Berlin’s hesitant stance on the battle-tank issue had caused unrest among its Western allies and confusion in Germany in recent days. Critics in Scholz’s own governing coalition accused his chancery of being paralyzed by internal party strife.
Scholz said in a statement: “This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine as best we can. Internationally, we act closely together.”
Russia denounced the American and German initiatives as “a rather disastrous plan”. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said: “Most importantly, this is a blatant overestimation of the potential that (this) would add to Ukraine’s armed forces. It’s another misconception, a pretty deep one.’
Others reacted with more anger; Sergei Nechayev, Moscow’s ambassador to Germany, said: “This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation.”
In announcing to send 31 Abrams tanks, Biden said, “There is no offensive threat to Russia.”
“Putin expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve,” the president said in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. “He expected our support for Ukraine to crumble over time. He was wrong… These tanks are further proof of our continued, unwavering commitment to Ukraine and our confidence in the skill of the Ukrainian armed forces.”