Forty countries meet in Germany on bolstering Ukraine defence, France pulls out the big guns

·3-min read

Top US officials hosted emergency talks with allies in Germany on Tuesday on supplying Kyiv with more weapons to fend off Russia's assault, as the UN's chief headed to Moscow in a bid to avert further escalation of the conflict. France promised to supply howitzers for Ukraine's army.

The meeting of 40 countries at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine of only "pretending" to negotiate a cease-fire and warned of a "real" risk of a new world war.

Moscow's invasion of its neighbour, now in its eighth week, has triggered widespread outrage among Western nations who have provided weapons and other assistance to Ukraine's embattled President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But the Western powers have been reluctant to deepen their direct involvement, wary of drawing Moscow's ire and sparking military confrontations beyond Ukraine's borders.

"We believe that they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said following his visit to Kyiv on Sunday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The two officials promised $700 million in new aid to Ukraine, after months of pleas by Zelensky for heavier firepower.

Ceasar cannons

Meanwhile, France is delivering Caesar cannons with a range of 40 kilometres.

The Caesar (short for "Camion équipé d'un système d'artillerie" or Truck equipped with an artillery system is a self-propelled 155 mm/52-calibre gun-howitzer that is mounted on a 6 wheel truck chassis.

Ceasars are made by Nexter Systems, that belongs to KNDS, "the European leader in land defence" according to its website, a French-German-Dutch arms company that has its headquarters in Amsterdam, jointly owned by the French state, and German truck manufacturer Wegmann.

Britain has provided Starstreak anti-air missiles and tanks, and Germany will authorise the delivery of tanks to Ukraine according to Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht, marking a clear switch in Berlin's cautious policy on military backing for Kyiv.

Berlin has agreed to sign off the delivery of used Gepard anti-aircraft tanks.

The meeting is also aimed at ensuring Ukraine's security in the longer term once the war is over.

"It's really largely about modernising and making sure their military is still potent and capable going forward. It's not about security guarantees, it's about their actual military posture," said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Friday.

The meeting on Tuesday will not be held under the auspices of NATO, even if the alliance's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg will be attending.

"As you know, NATO as an alliance is not providing security assistance to Ukraine, so this is not being done under the NATO umbrella at all," stressed Kirby.

Among the 40 invited countries are not only Washington's European allies, but also countries further afield like Japan or Australia, which fear that a Russian victory in Ukraine could set a precedent and spur on the territorial ambitions of China.

Finland and Sweden, traditionally neutral countries now looking at joining NATO following Russia's aggression in Ukraine, are also among countries at the talks.

(with wires)

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