Friday’s much-anticipated meeting of defense leaders at the Ramstein air base has concluded with no decision over whether to send Ukraine German-made Leopard 2 heavy tanks, a move that requires permission from Berlin.
Despite five hours of talks, mounting pressure from several European countries and an emotional plea from President Zelensky, a consensus wasn't reached, with Germany's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius saying there are "good reasons for the delivery and there are good reasons against it."
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the issue would be discussed again in future talks.
Pistorius said that while negotiaons are ongoing, German officials would examine their stocks for possible delivery so that action can follow quickly if a positive decision is made.
"Today, we still cannot say when a decision will be taken, and what the decision will be, when it comes to the Leopard tank," he said.
A final decision would be taken only in consultation with allies, he stressed.
The U.S. said it expected a decision to be made closer to spring when it expects Ukraine to mount a counteroffensive against Russia, and called on allies to step up arms shipments to help Kyiv prepare.
"We have a window of opportunity here between now and the spring... whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive," U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters.
"That's not a long time and we have to pull together the right capabilities."
Austin also said Western allies could further increase support for Ukraine as he defended Germany against criticism it was not doing enough to help Kyiv.
"We could all do more," Austin said, stressing that Berlin was a "reliable ally" despite Germany's refusal so far to approve deliveries of German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks sought by Kyiv.
President Zelensky welcomed the progress made in recent days, with arms deliveries promised by the United States and a string of European nations, but added there was "no alternative" but for the West to give Ukraine heavy tanks.
"The partners are principled in their attitude -- they will support Ukraine as much as is necessary for our victory," said Zelensky in his evening address.
"Yes, we will still have to fight for the supply of modern tanks, but every day we make it more obvious that there is no alternative, that a decision about tanks must be made."
Pistorius earlier said it was "wrong" to claim that Germany alone was blocking the delivery to Ukraine of Western-made battle tanks.
The impression that "there is a united coalition, and that Germany is standing in the way is wrong," he said.
"There are many allies who say we share the view that I have put forward here," he added.
Earlier on Friday, President Zelensky renewed his plea for Western allies to "speed up" arms deliveries to Ukraine as he addressed the Ramstein conference, which gathered representatives from 50 countries, via video-link.
Partners needed "not to bargain about different numbers of tanks but to open that principal supply that will stop evil", the Ukrainian leader said.
Poland and Finland have already indicated they would be willing to send the tanks to Ukraine.
According to military analysts, the Leopard 2 is probably the best choice of NATO main battle tanks that could be used to equip the Ukrainian army.
Over the years, Germany has sold thousands of them across the world and many of them are currently sitting unused in countries like Poland that want to send them to Ukraine, but couldn’t because they need German permission to do so.
Since the start of Russia’s reinvasion, Ukraine’s western allies have been cautious in which weapons systems it sends to Kyiv for fear of escalating the conflict with Russia beyond Ukraine’s borders.
The U.K. last week opened the gate for supplies of heavy tanks after announcing it would send 14 Challenger 2 vehicles.
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