Generals meeting for five hours at a US air base in Germany failed to resolve divisions over providing advanced battle tanks to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has appealed to western allies to speed up the delivery of military support – including badly needed heavy armour – in his country’s struggle against the Russia invader.
In an address to a conference at the US airbase in Ramstein, Germany, he urged assembled defence ministers to agree in “principle” to supply his forces with modern battle tanks.
The defence minister of Poland, which has pledged a company of 14 Leopard tanks on condition that other countries also supply them, said 15 countries that have the German-made Leopards discussed the issue but no decisions were made.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak called the meeting a “good discussion among allies” and said the matter would be discussed again at future talks.
Germany would need to consent for the tanks to be given to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO. Despite pleas from Ukrainian officials, Germany has so far resisted mounting pressure to quickly supply Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv, or at least clear the way for other countries, such as Poland, to deliver them from their own stocks.
The US has resisted providing its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing extensive and complex maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicle. Washington believes it would be more productive to send German Leopards since many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the more difficult Abrams.
Speaking remotely from Ukraine, Mr Zelensky thanked allies for their previous support but said “hundreds of thank yous are not hundreds of tanks”.
“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,” he said.
“You can start this policy today. It is in your power to make a Ramstein of tanks. Not to bargain about different numbers of tanks but to open (the) principle (of) supply that will stop Russian evil.”
Meanwhile, a Kremlin spokesman said the deployment of Western tanks would trigger “unambiguously negative” consequences.
“All these tanks will require both maintenance and repairs, and so on, so (sending them) will add to Ukraine’s problems, but will not change anything with regard to the Russian side achieving its goals,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a media briefing Friday.
Austin and U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were expected to discuss the latest massive package of aid the U.S. is sending, which totals $2.5 billion and includes Stryker armored vehicles for the first time.
The United Kingdom announced last week that it would send Challenger 2 tanks, describing that move as a natural progression of military aid to Ukraine.