The European Union’s foreign policy said on Friday some European countries are prepared to send heavy tanks to Ukraine and he hoped a decision to provide them will be made at defence ministers’ talks at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
NATO and defence leaders from about 50 countries were meeting on Friday at Ramstein, the latest in a series of arms-pledging conferences since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly 11 months ago.
The main focus at the talks is on whether Germany will allow the re-export to Ukraine of its Leopard 2 tanks, which are used by armies across Europe.
“This is the discussion that will take place in Ramstein today, where the EU will be represented. We have to give Ukraine the arms necessary not only to repel, which is what they’re doing, but also to regain terrain,” Josep Borrell told reporters in Madrid, referring to Ukraine’s battle against the Russian invasion.
“I think Ukraine needs the combat arms and heavy tanks that it has asked for and some European countries are prepared to give and I hope that is the decision that is taken,” he added.
Ukraine said it expected strong decisions from NATO and other countries at the meeting on Friday, warning that Russia was seeking to reenergise its war effort.
However, Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles, who is not attending the Ramstein talks, told reporters she did not expect any political decisions on tanks there.
“This is not a meeting to decide anything, it is a technical meeting of the kind that is held periodically every month…to evaluate Ukraine’s immediate needs,” she said, adding that Spain was represented by senior military officials.
Last year, Spain first said it was considering sending around 40 Leopard 2A4 tanks mothballed at a military base in Zaragoza to Ukraine, but later Robles ruled out such deliveries because the tanks are “in an absolutely deplorable state”.
Poland could send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine even without Germany’s re-export approval, a deputy foreign minister said on Friday, ahead of a crunch meeting on weapons for Kyiv.
Warsaw and other NATO allies have been urging Germany to give them the go-ahead to send the German-made tanks to Ukraine amid ever louder Kyiv pleas for heavy weaponry it says is essential to turning the tide against Russia’s invasion.
The issue looks set to dominate talks between Western allies at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday.
“I do not rule out that we are ready to take such a step,” Pawel Jablonski told private radio RMF FM referring to the possibility of sending tanks to Ukraine even if Germany opposes it.
“At the moment we are trying to make Germany not only agree these tanks being sent by Poland or other countries, but also to do so themselves.”
Germany has been loath to send heavy offensive weapons that could be seen as escalating the Ukraine conflict and has so far withheld re-export approval for its allies to provide Leopard 2 tanks, now a mainstay of allied armies across Europe.
Jablonski spoke amid mounting exasperation among some allies over Germany’s stance.
“I think that if there is strong resistance, we will be ready to take even such non-standard action … but let’s not anticipate the facts,” he said.
His comments reinforced signals sent by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Wednesday, when he suggested that Warsaw could send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as part of a wider coalition if Germany fails to give its approval.
Lithuanian Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said on Thursday several countries would announce sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine at the Ramstein meeting.
However, Germany has yet to receive a request from any country for permission to re-export German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, a German government source said on Thursday.
(U.S. Army photo by Christoph Koppers)