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Polish defence minister 'hopeful' for deal on Leopard tanks for Ukraine

20.01.2023 22:00
Poland’s defence minister said on Friday he was hopeful that Ukraine’s allies would eventually resolve their differences and agree to send German-made Leopard battle tanks to help Kyiv repel Russian forces.
Polands Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak.
Poland's Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak.PAP/EPA/Ronald Wittek

Mariusz Błaszczak made the statement after the latest meeting of Western defence officials at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Polish state news agency PAP reported. 

He was speaking after defence leaders from around 50 countries gathered at Ramstein on Friday to discuss more weapons deliveries to Ukraine, but made no decision on whether Leopard tanks can be sent to the war-torn country.

The Polish defence minister told reporters that, even though the meeting ended without a decision, he was "hopeful" that Leopard 2 tanks would finally make their way to Ukraine.

“My hope comes from the fact that ... defence ministers from 15 countries met on the sidelines of today’s conference and we talked about this topic," Błaszczak said.

"I’m convinced that these coalition-building efforts will end in success," he added.

Later in the day, Błaszczak held talks with German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, the PAP news agency reported. 

‘Poland ready to arm a brigade of Ukrainian troops’

Błaszczak told reporters that Poland was ready to arm and train a brigade of Ukrainian forces to strengthen Ukraine’s defences against Russia.  

He said: “We’ll be able to equip and train up to a brigade of Ukrainian soldiers by the end of March.”

Błaszczak, who is a Polish deputy prime minister, added that Ukrainian soldiers would receive “used equipment,” including Poland’s remaining T-72 tanks as well as infantry fighting vehicles, the PAP news agency reported.

‘We’re pushing hard to meet Ukraine's tank needs’: Austin

Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who presided over the Ramstein meeting, known as the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, told reporters: “We’re … pushing hard to meet Ukraine’s requirements for tanks and other armoured vehicles."

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, said it would be “very, very difficult” for Ukrainian forces to “militarily eject” Russian troops from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine this year, the Ukrainska Pravda website reported.

Milley added it would be possible for Ukraine to run a “significant” tactical or even operational-level offensive operation to liberate as much Ukrainian territory as possible, according to Britain’s The Guardian newspaper. 

Germany denies blocking supply of Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Speaking on the sidelines of the Ramstein meeting, Germany’s Pistorius denied Berlin was single-handedly blocking the transfer of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but said his government was ready to “move quickly” on sending them if there was “consensus among allies,” the Reuters news agency reported.

Pistorius said, as quoted by Reuters: "There are good reasons for the (tank) deliveries and there are good reasons against, and in view of the entire situation of a war that has been ongoing for almost one year, all pros and cons must be weighed very carefully."

He added: "The impression that has occasionally arisen, that there is a closed coalition and Germany was standing in the way, this impression is wrong."

Berlin has become one of Ukraine's top military allies in response to Russia's invasion, but it has not yet agreed to send Leopard tanks or allow other countries to send their own German-made tanks, Reuters reported.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday he was "moderately sceptical" of Germany authorising the tanks for Ukraine because "the Germans are defending themselves against this like the devil protects himself against holy water," according to Reuters.

Friday’s arms-pledging conference at the US military base in Ramstein was attended by Ukraine-supporting defence leaders from around 50 countries, as well as Ukraine's Oleksii Reznikov, officials said.

Friday was day 331 of Russia’s war against Ukraine. 


Source: IAR, PAP, Reuters, politico.com, Ukrainska Pravda, The Guardian