Defence Minister Anita Anand will meet with dozens of allies at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday, where a wave of new military aid for Ukraine is set to be agreed to.
The meeting is expected to be dominated by the question of whether the allies, including Canada, will send heavy tanks that Ukraine says are needed in its fight against Russia.
Allies have been wrestling with whether to send tanks to Ukraine. Germany is facing pressure to not only send some of its Leopard 2 tanks, but to allow other countries that operate the same tanks to do the same.
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That would include Canada, which has 112 Leopard 2s in several configurations in use by the Canadian Armed Forces. The tanks were acquired from Germany in 2007 during the height of the war in Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Anand made a surprise visit to Kyiv and announced Canada is sending another 200 armoured vehicles to help with the country’s defence.
She would not say whether Canada would contribute some of its Leopard 2s if Germany allowed for their re-export, saying only that Ottawa “will continue to provide Ukraine with the aid that it needs to fight and win this war.”
She did say, however, that the request was “top of mind” for the defence ministers to discuss at their meeting on Friday.
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Germany has been accused of blocking the export of its Leopard 2 tanks over fears that Moscow will view such a move as a further escalation of the conflict.
Washington and many Western allies say the Leopards, which Germany made in the thousands during the Cold War and exported to its allies, are the only suitable option available in big enough numbers.
Ukraine, which has said it needs 300 tanks and other weapons to expel Russian forces, says Western-built tanks would be a significant improvement from the Soviet-era T-72 tanks it has used to date, which are now in limited supply.
German officials have told the Associated Press and Reuters it will lift its objections over the Leopards if the U.S. sends Ukraine its own Abrams tanks. U.S. officials say the Abrams, which runs on powerful turbine engines, use too much fuel for Kyiv’s strained logistics system to keep many of them supplied at the front.
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Germany’s new defence minister Boris Pistorius has expressed confidence that a deal might be reached at Friday’s meeting, which is being hosted by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Asked on Wednesday whether Germany would only deliver Leopards if Washington supplies the Abrams, Pistorius replied that he isn’t “aware of such a package.” But he insisted that aid must continue to be “coordinated” and it’s important for Germany to proceed “shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans.”
The United Kingdom has already increased the pressure on Germany by announcing last week it will be sending its own Challenger tanks to Ukraine along with a significant package of additional military aid.
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy said Thursday his government was expecting “strong decisions” out of Friday’s meeting.
Even if an agreement on tanks isn’t reached, the meeting is still expected to lead to billions of dollars in new aid from Western militaries, who have signalled their intent to help ensure Ukraine’s victory in the war this year.
— with files from the Canadian Press and Reuters
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