Cyprus Mail

Allies move to bolster Ukrainian tank forces ahead of counteroffensive

file photo: ukrainian service members ride a tank near the front line city of bakhmut
File photo: Ukrainian service members ride a tank, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, near the front line city of Bakhmut

The United States said it will soon start training Ukrainian troops to use its Abrams tank and Germany announced a deal to establish a hub in Poland to repair tanks deployed in Ukraine as the U.S. hosted a meeting of allies at in Germany on Friday.

The meeting at Ramstein Air Base, the latest in a series of arms-pledging conferences to Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion last year, made no big ticket announcements on weapons but said its focus was air defence and ammunition.

It also reassured Kyiv of unwavering support and backed Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO at some point in the future but officials stressed the immediate focus was helping Ukraine on the battlefield.

Ukraine has pressed its allies for long-range weapons, jets and ammunition ahead of a counteroffensive to push back Russian troops that is expected in the coming weeks or months.

“The M1 tank, when it is delivered, will make a difference,” U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, said after the talks, calling the Abrams the best tank in the world. Abrams battle tanks will arrive in Germany in the coming weeks for Ukrainian troops to begin training, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added the training would last about 10 weeks and would involve hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers.

In January, the U.S. pledged to supply Ukraine with 31 advanced M1A2 Abrams tanks after months of shunning the idea over concerns about the difficulty in maintaining them and their complexity.

NATO member states and their allies have provided Ukraine with weapons and armour, but Ukraine’s leadership has repeatedly asked for more powerful weapons and quicker supplies.

Asked about Kyiv’s demands for advanced fighter jets, Milley said what Ukraine needed first and foremost was ground-based air defence.

“The Russians are cautious to come into Ukraine because of the effective use of the Ukrainian air defense system. That is the most critical thing right now,” Milley said.Also at Friday’s meeting, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius announced a deal to establish a hub in Poland to repair the German-made Leopard tanks being deployed in Ukraine.

All parties agreed on how to finance such a hub, which costs around 150-200 million euros ($384 million) a year and could begin operations at the end of May, Pistorius told reporters.

He also said Ukrainian troops would begin to receive training on using the Leopard tanks and said Berlin’s pledge to deliver around 80 of them to Ukraine by the middle of the year was progressing swiftly.

“What does all this show? It shows our determination that we want to persevere. Putin cannot play for time, we will persevere,” he said.

Asked about Ukraine’s prospects to join the NATO alliance, Pistorius said all members agreed that they saw Ukraine as a future member but “first things first”.



Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pressed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on weapons deliveries at a meeting in Kyiv on Thursday.

“I have asked Mr. Secretary General to help us overcome our partners’ reticence to supply some weapons, namely long-range weapons, modern aviation, artillery and armoured vehicles,” Zelenskiy said.

“The stalling of relevant decisions means time lost to peace and the lives of our soldiers, who have not yet received vital defence tools in the required quantity.”

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Stoltenberg said Zelenskiy had been invited to attend the next NATO summit in July and emphasised the need to support Ukrainian battlefield logistics.

“Maybe it sounds a bit more boring, but … this is now a battle of attrition, and a battle of attrition becomes a war of logistics,” he said.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban poured cold water on Ukraine’s NATO prospects, simply tweeting “What?!” as a comment on the NATO chief’s assertion that Ukraine should join the military alliance.

Ahead of the meeting, Washington had unveiled an additional $325 million in new military aid for Ukraine, including additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), advanced missiles and anti-tank mines.

Separately, Denmark and the Netherlands had announced sending 14 German-made Leopard 2 heavy tanks to Ukraine by early next year. Canada announced rifles and army radios.

Friday’s meeting comes at a vital juncture in Russia’s almost 14-month-old invasion which has killed thousands, uprooted millions, destroyed cities and devastated the Ukrainian economy.

After weathering a Russian winter and spring offensive that has made only small advances in the east, Ukraine now hopes to retake land in its south and east in a counteroffensive in the coming weeks or months.

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