There was a sense of friction behind the unified smiles and handshakes at a meeting of allies to promise Ukraine more weapons.
Kyiv has been asking its Western donors for months to donate hundreds of modern battle tanks to bolster its armed forces’ ability to launch offensive operations against entrenched Russian positions.
Friday’s gathering of more than 50 nations at a US air base in Germany came at a key time to meet that demand.
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The The UK has stepped up, although 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 that holds the key to unlocking a significant number of weapons – blinked.
Instead of any announcement from Berlin, there has been indecision, despite weeks of mounting pressure on Scholz of Chancellor Olaf of his NATO partners to cross what was previously a red line.
Anxious to hide all the cracks, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, organizer of the Ukraine Meeting of the contact group, and its superior officer, General Mark Milley, insisted that the allies were more united than ever.
“I think in my 43 years in uniform, this is the most unified NATO I have ever seen,” General Milley said.
But they also underscored the challenge facing Ukraine – and the need to ensure that military equipment and training provides the capability required to conduct complex operations relying on a combination of tanks, vehicles armored combat vehicles and artillery.
“This year, it will be very, very difficult to eject militarily the Russian forces from every square inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” General Milley told a joint press conference at the end of the meeting at the Ramstein base.
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“It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it will be very, very difficult.”
As Russia rearms and trains newly mobilized troops for what many Western and Ukrainian officials predict will be a new wave of offensives by spring, time is not on Ukraine’s side.
This point was underscored by President Zelenskyy, who addressed the assembled defense ministers via video link.
“Time remains a Russian weapon. We must speed up,” he said.
“Weather must become our common weapon, just like air defense and artillery, armored vehicles and tanks.”
But Germany, which has been criticized in the past for being too slow to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, does not want to be rushed, especially in a week when its defense minister was forced to resign.
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A new man, Boris Pistorius, was only appointed to replace her a few days ago; and it was he who remained to defend the German position.
“We are not afraid of anything. We just have a responsibility to our people in Germany and Europe and we have to weigh the pros and cons before deciding on such things,” Pistorius told reporters. journalists, speaking in English.
He said a decision should be made soon – a sign that this tank saga still has miles to go.