The Push for Tanks Falls Short

The Push for Tanks Falls Short

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The U.S. and its allies failed to reach an agreement to send German-made tanks to Ukraine, a setback to the Ukrainian military’s attempts to prepare for an expected Russian offensive in the spring.

Western countries backing Ukraine met today at Ramstein Air Base in Germany for talks led by Lloyd J. Austin, the U.S. defense secretary. After weeks of negotiations and diplomatic jockeying, hopes had been high that the West would announce a deal to finally send German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.

But by day’s end, a deal failed to materialize. The lack of agreement was certain to disappoint many in Ukraine.

“Hundreds of thank yous are not hundreds of tanks,” Zelensky told the group via live video. “All of us can use thousands of words in discussions, but I cannot use words instead of guns.”

Germany has been reluctant to send the Leopards, despite extensive negotiations with the United States. Many allied countries in Europe had also been piling pressure on Germany to allow them to re-export their own Leopard tanks to Ukraine. (Because the tanks are German-made, approval from Berlin is legally required.)

For help in understanding Germany’s reticence, I spoke with my colleague Julian Barnes, a national security reporter for The Times who also previously covered NATO for The Wall Street Journal.

“This is very much about the legacy of World War II,” he said. “Germany is always captured, when it comes to their military policy, by its history. It is very fearful of being seen as a military aggressor in Europe, and that colors everything they’ve done.”

In the early days of the war, it took a seismic shift in policy for Germany to even send helmets to Ukraine. But the historical argument works both ways: A group of German political parties has called on the country to deliver the tanks, saying: “As a country responsible for the worst human rights crimes in Europe — especially in Poland and the countries of the former Soviet Union — we have a special obligation to restore and secure peace.”

Pro-Ukrainian crowds demonstrated outside Germany’s parliament this evening, chanting, “We need tanks.”

The German government wants the United States to provide at least a token number of its own M1 Abrams tanks before it commits to sending tanks of its own. But sending even a small number of Abrams tanks would create logistical and training difficulties. The Abrams is more complicated to maintain and operate than the Leopard and typically requires special fuel.

Instead, the U.S. is sending an aid package that includes heavily armored vehicles that are not tanks, including Strykers and Bradleys.

Germany has argued that the debate among Western allies is far from clear-cut. “There is no unified consensus,” said Boris Pistorius, the country’s new defense minister, who took office yesterday. “The impression that has occasionally been created that there is a united coalition and that Germany is standing in the way is wrong.”

But in a sign that some movement is anticipated, the defense minister said he had ordered an inventory of Germany’s Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks, and for Germany’s armed forces to prepare to train Ukrainian soldiers.


Follow our coverage of the war on the @nytimes channel.

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In Ukraine

  • Ten adults and six children are still in the hospital after the helicopter crash that killed Denys Monastyrskiy, the interior minister, and 14 other people, the Guardian reports.

  • A bipartisan group of U.S. senators met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv today, Bloomberg reports.

In Russia

  • Western companies with Russian subsidiaries have mostly not divested their holdings, Eurointelligence reports.

  • Dmitri Medvedev, a key Putin ally, warned that when nuclear-armed powers lose wars, “it can provoke the outbreak of a nuclear war,” CNN reports.

  • The Kremlin warned that any Ukrainian attacks on Crimea would be “extremely dangerous,” the Guardian reports.

  • Russian forces deployed new air defenses in Moscow, including at President Vladimir Putin’s residence, after Ukrainian drone attacks inside Russia, Bloomberg reports.


  • The United States will impose additional sanctions against the Wagner private military company next week, Reuters reports.

  • Europe’s appetite for Russian natural gas appears to be decreasing because of a warmer-than-usual winter and increased supplies from elsewhere, Bloomberg reports.

Thanks for reading. Carole will be back Monday. — Adam

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