More support for Ukraine: now the main battle tanks are missing

More support for Ukraine: now the main battle tanks are missing

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is considered a quiet politician. Nevertheless, he can become clear. The so-called “Ukraine Contact Group” met at the Ramstein Air Force Base on Thursday to discuss further military support for the country. “We are here because we will not reconcile living in a world where great powers trample borders with violence,” Austin said.

It was the second time that the Contact Group meeting was held at the US Air Force Base in Ramstein. In addition to many allies, the Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov also took part.

Austin said US President Joe Biden only approved $675 million in military aid on Wednesday, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised additional military aid of $2 billion during a visit to Kyiv.

In Ramstein, Austin listed everything the United States had so far supplied to the country to defend Ukraine: including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, armored personnel carriers, grenade launchers, military helicopters, protective vests and millions of rounds of ammunition for small arms.

Traffic light coalition at odds over supply of main battle tanks

Main battle tanks were not included in the list. Neither the USA nor Germany and France are still supplying main battle tanks. This is causing debates within the federal government. After much hesitation, the traffic light coalition decided at the end of April to deliver the Gepard anti-aircraft vehicle and the Biber armored bridge-laying vehicle directly to Ukraine.

Main battle tanks like the Leopard 2 are still not supplied directly to Ukraine. However, the Greens and the FDP are signaling that they could well imagine doing so.

Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht, SPD, has various justifications for the lack of main battle tanks. On Wednesday, she declared in the Bundestag that Germany had “given away an unbelievable amount from the stocks of the Bundeswehr”. She tells anyone who asks the government to deliver more weapons “quickly” that she will “very carefully” ensure that “national and alliance defense” is maintained. “German solo efforts” will not exist.

Then on Thursday at the Ramstein Air Force Base she said it was important for the government to support Ukraine “as soon as possible”. That’s why she relies on the format of the so-called ring exchange. Central European countries such as Slovakia and the Czech Republic supply Ukraine with old Soviet main battle tanks that are easy to operate, and Germany fills in the gaps with modern tanks.

Ring exchange has mixed results

Sounds like a catchy idea, but so far the ring swap has had mixed reviews. Some of the negotiations with the other countries lasted longer than expected, and some talks failed. The exchange of rings is therefore also the result of German hesitancy. In addition, the Ukrainian government in Kyiv wants NATO equipment.

The CDU chairman Friedrich Merz sees the blame for the sluggish arms deliveries solely with the federal government. Neither the allies nor the industry nor a lack of financial resources are responsible for the fact that the wishes of the government in Kyiv are only being fulfilled so slowly, said Merz on Wednesday evening at an event of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin dedicated to Ukraine.

“The USA does not see something like this as going it alone.”

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann

Merz, who is also chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, sees one of the reasons for the delayed implementation of the Ukrainian wishes in the Federal Government’s continued belief in the political principle of change through rapprochement. But this conception is dead, he stated. Instead, we would find ourselves in a new age of systems competition. Germany must therefore redefine its role in Europe, in NATO and in the world. Only with patience and perseverance can the trust lost in Eastern Europe be regained.

Berlin’s reluctance is not only criticized by the opposition, there is also resentment within the government factions. “Our allies have no problem with it if we take a step forward and deliver tanks, for example,” said the FDP defense politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann to the Tagesspiegel. The USA did not see such steps as “going it alone, but as a partnership on an equal footing”. “You will not ask anyone to do so, but you certainly welcome such deliveries,” said Strack-Zimmermann.

At Ramstein Air Force Base on Thursday, Lloyd Austin braced allies for more support for Ukraine. The Ukrainian army needs continued and determined support. “Now,” Austin said. All the same, Lambrecht can also announce further German support in Ramstein: together with the Netherlands, the federal government wants to start a training program for Ukrainian soldiers in demining, they are also taking part in a “winter package” and the cheetah and beaver tanks that have already been promised would “soon “ delivered.

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