Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged dozens of defense ministers on Friday to look for new ways to help Ukraine fend off the nearly year-old Russian invasion threatening its existence amid a seemingly unresolved rift over who will supply the government in Kyiv with battle tanks ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive, APA reports citing the Washington Post.
“We need to keep our momentum and resolve,” Austin said in opening remarks at a meeting on this air base, where the delegations gathered. “We need to dig even deeper.”
The remarks came as Germany has declined to provide its powerful Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and indicated it would obstruct other nations who own the German-made weapons from doing so. Their permission is required, according to export agreements with those countries, but Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday that he would send 14 of their Leopard tanks to Ukraine regardless of whether Germany approves.
The situation has marked a rare open dispute in a coalition that has held together for months as Russia pursues its invasion and Ukraine makes regular pleas from world leaders to provide weapons. Many countries have in turn moved to provide increasingly sophisticated and powerful arms, as the Ukrainian military demonstrates ferocity and professionalism.
The United States announced another sprawling $2.5 billion package of military aid on Thursday night, including 59 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and 90 Stryker fighting vehicles.
It marked a doubling down on providing Bradleys after an earlier authorization of 50 and the first time that the United States has included Strykers in the nearly $27 billion in military assistance that the Biden administration has approved since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.
But the new package of U.S. weapons does not include the main American battle tank, the M1 Abrams — something that Ukraine has requested and Germany has said is required for it to provide its Leopards. Senior U.S. defense officials have said that it makes no sense to send the Abrams, a logistical burden that is difficult to maintain and runs on hard-to-supply JP-8 jet fuel. Leopards run on easier-to-source diesel.
Austin, a retired Army general who relied on the Abrams during the Iraq War, has seen sending the Abrams as a bad idea for months. He did not address the issue directly in his opening remarks but said that this is a decisive moment for Ukraine and that countries rallying to Kyiv’s aid “will support Ukraine’s self-defense for as long as it takes.”
Austin cast Russia’s invasion as increasingly hapless, saying that Moscow is running out of ammunition, suffering “significant battlefield losses and turning to just a few partners that it has left for help.
“Even Iran and North Korea won’t admit that they are supplying Russia,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to address the ministers remotely on Friday from Kyiv.