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German minister talks tank support

by The Associated Press | January 23, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
A woman stands in front of a display of destroyed Russian tanks and armoured vehicles in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- The German government will not object if Poland decides to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, Germany's top diplomat said Sunday, indicating movement on supplying weapons that Kyiv has described as essential to its ability to fend off an intensified Russian offensive.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told French TV channel LCI that Poland has not formally asked for Berlin's approval to share some of its German-made Leopards but added "if we were asked, we would not stand in the way."

German officials "know how important these tanks are" and "this is why we are discussing this now with our partners," Baerbock said in interview clips posted by LCI.

Ukraine's supporters pledged billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine during a meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday. International defense leaders discussed Ukraine's urgent request for the Leopard 2 tanks, and the failure to work out an agreement overshadowed the new commitments.

Germany is one of the main donors of weapons to Ukraine, and it ordered a review of its Leopard 2 stocks in preparation for a possible green light. Nonetheless, the government in Berlin has shown caution at each step of increasing its military aid to Ukraine, a hesitancy seen as rooted in its history and political culture.

Germany's tentativeness has drawn criticism, particularly from Poland and the Baltic states, countries on NATO's eastern flank that feel especially threatened by Russia's renewed aggression.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that if the fellow NATO and European Unio member did not consent to transferring Leopard tanks to Ukraine, his country was prepared to build a "smaller coalition" of countries that would send theirs anyway.

"Almost a year had passed since the outbreak of war," Morawiecki said in an interview with Polish state news agency PAP published Sunday. "Evidence of the Russian army's war crimes can be seen on television and on YouTube. What more does Germany need to open its eyes and start to act in line with the potential of the German state?"

Previously, some officials in Poland indicated that Finland and Denmark also were ready to send Leopards to Ukraine.

Earlier Sunday, the speaker of the lower house of Russia's parliament, State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin, said governments that give more powerful weapons to Ukraine risked causing a "global tragedy that would destroy their countries."

"Supplies of offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime would lead to a global catastrophe," Volodin said. "If Washington and NATO supply weapons that would be used for striking peaceful cities and making attempts to seize our territory as they threaten to do, it would trigger a retaliation with more powerful weapons."

French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, said Sunday that he had asked his defense minister to "work on" the idea of sending some of France's Leclerc battle tanks to Ukraine.

Macron spoke during a news conference in Paris with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as France and Germany commemorated the 60th anniversary of their post-World War II friendship treaty. In a joint declaration, the two countries committed to their "unwavering support" for Ukraine.

France will make its tank decision based on three criteria, Macron said: that sharing the equipment does not lead to an escalation of the conflict, that it would provide efficient and workable help when training time is taken into account, and that it wouldn't weaken France's own military.

Scholz did not respond when asked about the Leopard 2 tanks Sunday, but stressed that his country already has made sizable military contributions to Ukraine.

"The U.S. is doing a lot, Germany is doing a lot, too," he said. "We have constantly expanded our deliveries with very effective weapons that are already available today. And we have always coordinated all these decisions closely with our important allies and friends."

In Washington, two leading lawmakers urged the U.S. on Sunday to send some of its Abrams tanks to Ukraine in the interests of overcoming Germany's reluctance to share its own, more suitable tanks.

"If we announced we were giving an Abrams tank, just one, that would unleash" the flow of tanks from Germany, Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told ABC's "This Week on Sunday." "What I hear is that Germany's waiting on us to take the lead."

  photo  German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock, left, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, second left, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, third left, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu, second right, and French President Emmanuel Macron, third right, attend a Defense and Security joint council upon a Franco-German Ministers council as part of the 60th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty at Elysee Palace in Paris, Sunday, Jan. 2023. (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP)
 
 
  photo  French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna, right, speaks with her German counterpart Annalena Baerbock before posing with members of France and Germany cabinets for a group photo ahead of a Franco-German Ministers' council meeting as part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Sunday, Jan. 22 2023. France and Germany are seeking to overcome differences laid bare by Russia's war in Ukraine and shore up their alliance with a day of ceremonies and talks Sunday on Europe's security, energy and other challenges. (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool via AP)
 
 
  photo  In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talk during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
 
 
  photo  A student of navy military school visits an exhibition of tanks and APCs of Ukrainian armed forces damaged and captured during the fighting at an exhibition at the museum "Breakthrough of the Siege of Leningrad" in Kirovsk, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) east of St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
 
 
  photo  People visit an exhibition of tanks and APCs of Ukrainian armed forces damaged and captured during the fighting at an exhibition at the museum "Breakthrough of the Siege of Leningrad" in Kirovsk, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) east of St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
 
 
  photo  People visit an exhibition of tanks and APCs of Ukrainian armed forces damaged and captured during the fighting at an exhibition at the museum "Breakthrough of the Siege of Leningrad" in Kirovsk, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) east of St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
 
 
  photo  German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, center, and French President Emmanuel Macron listen to Young Talents of Generation Europe Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. France and Germany are seeking to overcome differences laid bare by Russia's war in Ukraine while celebrating their decades-long friendship with a day of ceremonies and talks Sunday on Europe's security, energy and other challenges. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly, Pool)
 
 
  photo  German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron attend a joint press conference Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. France and Germany are seeking to overcome differences laid bare by Russia's war in Ukraine and shore up their alliance with a day of ceremonies and talks Sunday on Europe's security, energy and other challenges. (Benoit Tessier, Pool via AP)
 
 
  photo  French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu, right, greets German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius during celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Elysee Treaty, at the Elysee Palace Sunday, Jan.22, 2023 in Paris. France and Germany are seeking to overcome differences laid bare by Russia's war in Ukraine while celebrating their decades-long friendship with a day of ceremonies and talks Sunday on Europe's security, energy and other challenges. (Julien de Rosa, Pool via AP)
 
 

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