Western allies pledge fresh weapons for Ukraine
The United States and European allies announced substantial new supplies of armored vehicles, artillery and munition for Ukraine on Thursday, on the eve of a crucial meeting on military support for the next stage of the country’s war with Russia.
The Pentagon released a long list of $2.5 billion worth of supplies, including Bradley fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, air defense systems and tens of thousands of rockets and artillery round to bolster Ukraine forces.
Britain announced it would send 600 Brimstone missiles; Denmark said it would donate 19 French-made Caesar howitzers, and Sweden promised its Archer artillery system, a modern mobile howitzer requested by Kyiv for months.
The arms announcements came a day before defense and other officials from some 50 countries, including all 30 NATO members, meet in Ramstein, Germany to discuss what further support they can offer the war-torn country.
Looking ahead to the German talks, Zelensky said late Thursday that Kyiv expects “strong decisions” and “a powerful military support package from the United States”.
– No US, German tanks –
But the United States and Germany have so far fallen short of granting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s requests for their most modern battle tanks, which the Kremlin warned would amount to an “extremely dangerous” escalation if sent by the West.
Germany has been cautious about providing heavy weapons for Ukraine, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz is facing mounting pressure within Europe to authorise exports of German-made Leopard tanks of ahead of the Ramstein meeting.
At the annual World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Scholz told US congressmen that Germany would supply heavy tanks to Ukraine if the United States sent tanks too, a senior US lawmaker told AFP Thursday.
But Berlin left the door open to letting allies supply Ukraine with the requested tanks, saying late Thursday it would “become clear in the next few hours or tomorrow morning”.
Lithuanian Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told AFP that “some countries will send” Leopard tanks to Ukraine, promising “more news tomorrow” at the talks.
Visiting Kyiv, EU chief Charles Michel said he believed that tanks “must be delivered”.
And Zelensky, addressing Davos via video-link, said that “there are times where we shouldn’t hesitate.”
“When someone says ‘I will give tanks if someone else will also share tanks’… I don’t think this is the right strategy to go with.”
As the pledges came in, senior Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said it was “time to stop trembling at (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin and take the final step”.
“Ukraine needs tanks; tanks — the key to end war properly,” Podolyak said on Twitter.
– CIA chief visit –
A US official confirmed that Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns visited Kyiv in recent days as the country gears up for what some say are Russia’s plans for a new offensive.
“Director Burns travelled to Kyiv where he met with Ukrainian intelligence counterparts, as well as President Zelensky, and reinforced our continued support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression,” the official said.
The Washington Post wrote that Burns, in his second secret trip to Kyiv in just over two months, briefed Zelensky on how the United States sees Russia as setting its military plans in the coming weeks and months.
– No long-range rockets –
The US arms package also did not include the ATA long-range missiles that Ukraine has requested.
The missiles, which travel up to 300 kilometres (180 miles), could enable Ukraine to strike Russian supply routes and depots far behind the front lines that are not reachable with current HIMARS rocket systems.
But Western partners also fear that Ukraine could use long-range weapons to hit deep inside Russian territory or Crimea — a peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014 — despite Kyiv promising it would not do so.
The Kremlin warned against escalating the conflict to a “whole new level” if the West meets Ukraine’s latest calls for longer-range weapons.
– Russian ‘local offensive’ –
Air raid sirens wailed on Thursday in Kyiv and nationwide, a day after a helicopter crash outside the capital killed the a government minister and 13 others near a kindergarten.
Denys Monastyrsky, the 42-year-old interior minister and a key aide to Zelensky, was the highest-ranking Ukrainian official to die since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24 last year.
Zelensky said the investigation into the accident was ongoing.