Ukraine is a step closer to winning approval for German-made modern battle tanks to confront invading Russian forces and has secured a pledge of more Patriot defence missiles as its allies appear ready to rally for the next phase of the war.
Germany’s Leopard 2 tank, operated by armies in about 20 countries, is regarded as one of the West’s best. The tank weighs more than 60 tons, has a 120mm smoothbore gun and can hit targets at a distance of up to five km.
Ukraine, which has relied mainly on Soviet-era T-72 tank variants, says the new tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a broadly expected fresh Russian offensive as well as help re-take some of its territory.
Germany has been the West’s biggest holdout on pledging tanks but a cabinet minister said on Tuesday the issue would be the first to be decided by new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius.
He will host U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday ahead of a meeting on Friday of dozens of defence ministers at Ramstein air base in Germany.
Western countries have provided a steady supply of weapons to Ukraine since Russia invaded last Feb. 24 in what it calls a “special military operation” to protect its security because its neighbour grew increasingly close to the West. Ukraine and its allies accuse Moscow of an unprovoked war to grab territory.
The allies must intensify their military support to Ukraine to help them break a hardening of the front lines, Britain’s foreign minister, James Cleverly, said on a visit to Washington.
“What we see when you have these kind of brutal, attritional conflicts is this huge loss of life. And that cannot be what any of us want to see – which is why we think that now is the right time to intensify our support for Ukraine,” Cleverly said.
Also in Washington, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands told U.S. President Joe Biden of Dutch plans to offer the U.S.-made Patriot missile defence system to Ukraine.
This is in addition to pledges by the United States and Germany to send Patriot missile systems to Ukraine.
The training of Ukrainian officers to operate Patriot advanced long-range air defence system will last 10 weeks, Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said.
Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska urged delegates at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday to do more to help end the war, adding she would deliver a letter from her husband to the Chinese delegation setting out Ukraine’s proposed peace formula.
China is an important partner for Moscow and has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is to speak on Wednesday to the forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, the civilian death toll from a missile that struck an apartment block on Saturday rose to 45, including six children, among them an 11-month-old boy, Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. Ukrainian authorities called off the search for survivors on Tuesday.
The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said on Wednesday the two sides had exchanged fire on the eastern frontline, where neither has advanced much in recent months.
Over the past 24 hours, Russian forces pounded the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where nearly 30 settlements were shelled, including the towns of Soledar and Bakhmut as well as the village of Klishchiivka, the military’s report said.
Ukrainian forces repelled attacks in Bakhmut and the village of Klishchiivka just south of it in Donetsk, it added.
Russia claims to have captured the small mining town of Soledar near Bakhmut, a focal point of recent fighting, but Kyiv says its forces are still fighting there.
“The situation is complicated. Fighting is still going on in the streets of Soledar and Ukrainian forces are fighting hard. Part of the town in occupied,” Petro Kuzyk, commander of the “Freedom” battalion of the Ukrainian National Guard, was quoted as saying by the Espreso TV news website.
Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said in a YouTube video that eyewitnesses had noted Russian soldiers at the railway station in the town of Sil – just north of Soledar.
The number of Wagner fighters-for-hire, who played a major role in recent advances in Donbas, is much smaller, with Russian soldiers and conscripts now spearheading attacks, he added.
Reuters was not able to verify battlefield reports.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit St Petersburg on Wednesday, the 80th anniversary of the day Soviet forces managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city – then known as Leningrad – and break a Nazi blockade that had lasted since September 1941.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a domestic news agency that there was no truth to rumours Putin would announce changes to the war effort such as a general mobilisation.