Kyiv urged allies to supply it urgently with powerful new weapons that would allow its military to expel Russian forces from all Ukrainian territory, as the Kremlin warned that any such move was doomed to fail and would jeopardise global security.
Ukrainian officials called on western powers to send modern tanks to their country when they meet for talks at Ramstein air base in Germany on Friday, in a plea that nine Nato states said they would support.
Before the gathering of defence ministers from about 50 nations that supply Ukraine with arms, pressure continued to build on Berlin to allow countries that operate the German-made Leopard tank to transfer them to Kyiv’s hard-pressed forces.
“We all are waiting for the approval of the country which has the rights on the particular licence,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said without naming Germany, which is reportedly reluctant to allow Leopards to be sent to Kyiv unless the United States also supplies its Abrams tank – which is much more costly and complicated to operate.
“We put as much political pressure as we can, but most importantly our pressure is based on reasoned arguments. The bravery of our warriors and the motivation of the Ukrainian people is not enough against thousands of Russian tanks,” he added.
Mykhailo Podolyak, one of his chief advisers, wrote on Twitter: “True leadership is about leading by example, not about looking up to others… From Washington to London, from Paris to Warsaw, one thing is said: Ukraine needs tanks; tanks – the key to end war properly.”
He said it was time for western states “to stop trembling” at threats made by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February that has now killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.
Speaking via link to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Zelenskiy said Ukraine needed more long-range weapons to strike Russian positions in “temporarily occupied territories from where enemy missiles and artillery are operating today”.
“Our goal is to de-occupy all our territory. Crimea is our land, our territory. It is our sea and our mountains. Give us your weapons – we will return what is ours,” he vowed.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “even the discussion of supplying Ukraine with weapons that would allow strikes on Russian territory … is potentially extremely dangerous” and “would not bode well for global and pan-European security”.
Moscow claims sovereignty over Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and four regions of Ukraine that are now partly occupied by Russian troops. The Kremlin has warned that its forces will destroy all western weapons – including tanks – that are sent to Ukraine.
Defence ministers and other senior security officials from nine Nato members met in Estonia on Thursday and pledged an array of new weapons and ammunition for Ukraine, and also agreed to push for the provision of tanks at the Ramstein meeting on Friday.
“We commit to collectively pursuing delivery of an unprecedented set of donations including main battle tanks, heavy artillery, air defence, ammunition, and infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine’s defence,” said a declaration by the officials from Britain, Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Netherlands.
Britain has pledged to send about 14 Challenger tanks to Ukraine, and Poland says it will send a similar number of Leopards if an “international coalition” is formed on the issue.
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki suggested on Thursday that Warsaw may supply the tanks with or without German approval: “Consent is of secondary importance here, we will either obtain this consent quickly, or we will do what is needed ourselves.”