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Germany snubs Zelensky’s tank request

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Germany is delaying a decision to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine amid fears it could lead to all-out war between Russia and NATO.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin defended Germany, insisting “they will continue to be a reliable ally going forward”.

Kyiv wants 300 armoured fighting machines to pummel Russia out of Ukrainian territory.

There are more than 2,000 Leopard tanks sitting in warehouses all over Europe and they are particularly easy to operate and maintain.

Boris Pistorius, the German defence minister, said that there were “good reasons for, good against sending and said a decision could be “made in a week, in a month, or in a day”.

He said: “We did of course talk about the possible delivery of Leopard tanks.

“The first thing I have to observe is that there was no unified opinion on this. The impression that sometimes arises that there is a united coalition and Germany is standing in the way is wrong.

“There are many allies who say: ‘We share the view you’ve set out here. There are good reasons for delivering [the Leopards] and good reasons against it.’ . . . So the pros and cons have to be weighed up very carefully.”

A group of 15 defence ministers met on the sidelines of the event and are believed to have discussed what more they can do.

But Germany said it would get its Leopard tanks ready so that it could “act quickly” if it decided to give the green light.

“In my professional life I’ve learnt through experience that if you don’t know when a decision will be made or how it will go, you should try to get ahead of the situation,” he said.

Mr Austin praised Britain’s leadership for committing to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. The UK’s Challenger II will be the most capable armoured vehicle gifted to Kyiv to date and would enable the vehicles to survive direct hits from Russian T-72 tanks.

It comes after President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said “time must be our weapon” and urged Germany to allow Western allies to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

Mr Austin had earlier warned Russia “is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip”.

But in a press conference, the US Secretary of Defence said of the German contribution to Ukraine’s war for freedom: “We are training Ukrainians soldiers on manoeuvre and other things and speciality things here in Germany as well so Germany continues to open its doors and make the training areas and facilities available for us to continue to do the work that we need to do.”

He insisted Germany is “doing enough”, but added: “We can all do more.

“Germany has contributed a lot to this campaign,” he said, pointing to Germany’s provision of air defence capabilities and training for soldiers.”

Sweden will donate CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and more Archer Howitzers, Denmark will send 19 Howitzers, Latvia will donate more Stingers and helicopters, and Estonia is providing Ukraine with Howitzers and munitions, he added.

Mr Austin had earlier told defence ministers the Kremlin and “history” was watching them.

Western officials believe there is a “window of opportunity” for Ukrainian forces to launch a counter-offensive as Russia struggles to resupply its troops.

The senior American minister praised Britain for its commitment of tanks to Ukraine, saying: “The UK has announced a significant donation of Challenger tanks for Ukraine, and this is the first introduction of Western main battle tanks into Ukraine.

“May I also commend our British allies for making this decision.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky had urged western allies to speed up delivery of military assistance.

Mr Zelensky thanked them for their previous support and urged them to make Friday’s event a “Ramstein of tanks”.

“I can thank you hundreds of times but hundreds of thank yous are not hundreds of tanks,” he said.

“We have to speed up. Time must become our weapon, just like air defence and artillery, armoured vehicles and tanks which we are negotiating about with you and which will actually make a victory.”

The Kremlin warned that Western tanks will make little difference on the ground in Ukraine as Western powers gathered to discuss a new package of military aid for Kyiv.

“One should not exaggerate the importance of such supplies in terms of the ability to change something,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

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