Western allies are meeting to discuss further military support for Ukraine amid intense pressure on Germany to authorise the release of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to bolster Kyiv’s forces in their fight against Russia.
Defence ministers and military chiefs from around 50 nations are expected to take part in the talks convened by US defence secretary Lloyd Austin at Ramstein – the main US airbase in Europe – in Germany.
It follows the announcement at the weekend that the UK is to become the first nation to respond to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for modern western tanks with the dispatch of 14 British Army Challenger 2s.
It is time to turn the momentum that the Ukrainians have achieved in pushing back Russia into gains
The Ukrainians are seeking around 300 tanks to enable them to mount a counter-offensive against the Russian invaders, with the German-built Leopard 2s – which are widely used by European armies – seen as the most suitable candidate.
Poland has offered to supply a company of its Leopard 2s, however that would require a sign-off by Berlin which issued the original export licences.
So far the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been reluctant to do so amid concerns about the likely reaction in Moscow.
Reports have suggested the Germans would be prepared to relent if the US were to release some of their Abrams tanks.
The Americans however argue that the Abrams is a more complex machine – requiring more training for crews – while their turbine engines are heavy on fuel, making them unsuitable for Ukraine’s beleaguered forces.
Ahead of the Ramstein gathering, Mr Austin met new German defence minister Boris Pistorius in Berlin on Thursday but there was no immediate sign of any breakthrough.
The deadlock has led to growing frustration in Kyiv and among some other Nato allies, with former Soviet bloc states such as Estonia and Lithuania showing increasing signs of impatience.
At a meeting with ministers from a number of eastern members of the alliance in Estonia on Thursday, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the time had come to give Ukraine the support it needed to drive out Russian forces.
“It is time to turn the momentum that the Ukrainians have achieved in pushing back Russia into gains and making sure Russia understands that the purpose now is to push them back out of Ukraine,” he said.
Mr Wallace said that in addition to its latest support package, including the Challenger 2s and other heavy armour, the UK would be sending a further 600 Brimstone precision-guided missiles.