No Leopard tanks will be given to Ukraine by Germany at this time, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley said on Friday, at a briefing at Germany's U.S. Ramstein Air Base following an international conference on Ukraine support.
The international meeting comes amid Kyiv's frustration with the dissent over sending tanks to Ukraine as the full-scale invasion reaches the 11-month mark. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made direct pleas for tanks at the meeting.
Later Friday, in his evening address, Zelenskyy said Ukraine will have to fight to secure a supply of modern heavy armor.
'Every day we make it more obvious that there is no alternative to taking a decision about tanks,' he said.
U.S. soldiers attend the opening speech of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, via video screen, during the meeting of the Ukraine Security Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, Jan. 20, 2023.
At the Ramstein briefing, Austin and Milley discussed an extensive U.S. military assistance package to Ukraine, including 59 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers.
The new U.S. aid package, worth $2.5 billion, brings American military assistance to Ukraine to almost $27 billion since Russia's invasion nearly a year ago.
Austin denied there is a link between Germany not sending its Leopard tanks and the U.S. not committing its Abrams tanks. Downplaying the immediate importance of tanks, he emphasized that Stryker combat vehicles and Bradley armored vehicles would give Ukraine new capabilities in the war.
'We're really focused on making sure that Ukraine has a capability that it needs to be successful right now. So, we have a window of opportunity here - between now and in the spring ... whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive,' he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attends a press conference at Ramstein Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, Jan. 20, 2023.
The aid package includes three types of missiles, tens of thousands of artillery and mortar rounds, and additional HIMARS, along with eight Avenger air defense systems. The U.S. already announced it would send a Patriot missile system, while the Netherlands will supply two launching pads for them as well as missiles, Dutch news agency ANP reported.
Austin reaffirmed the allies' commitment to defending Ukraine.
'It is not only about Ukraine security, it is about European security and about global security,' he said. He expressed confidence the group will remain united and continue to build momentum.
Asked if Germany is a reliable ally, Austin responded, 'They are a reliable ally, they've been that way for a very, very long time, and I truly believe that they'll continue to be a reliable ally going forward.'
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley gives a press conference at the U.S. Air Base in Ramstein, western Germany, Jan. 20, 2023.
Milley echoed Austin's comment and noted this is the most unified he has seen NATO in his 40 years in uniform. He said the U.S. assistance package, along with unified donations from other countries, signify their resolve to defend Ukraine.
'As much as it takes, as long as it takes in order to keep Ukraine free, independent and sovereign,' he said.
However, Milley pointed out that 'synchronizing, sending all these armaments and training Ukrainian troops in a short window before spring is challenging; equipment getting married to the people and creating a coherent plan.'
He also said it would be very hard for Ukraine to drive Russia's invading forces from the country this year, and he stressed the importance of solidifying Ukraine's defensive front.
Defense ministers from about 50 countries, including all NATO members, met at Ramstein to discuss further support for Ukraine. This was the eighth Ramstein summit since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
On the subject of tanks, Germany's new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, suggested the issue was inching forward. Speaking to reporters outside the Ramstein conference hall at midday, Pistorius said, 'We will make our decisions as soon as possible.'
A woman stands in front of a display of destroyed Russian tanks and armored vehicles in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan. 20, 2023.
Earlier Friday, the head of NATO's Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, said Germany and other countries supporting Ukraine will have to decide individually on whether to supply it with tanks.
'Giving away stuff now costs money but the cost for all of us will be much higher if Russia wins the war in Ukraine. ... We need to seriously look at what Ukraine requires, and if possible, give them what they ask for,' he said.
Moscow said Friday any additional tanks supplied to Ukraine will have no effect on the course of the conflict.
'We have repeatedly said that such supplies will not fundamentally change anything but will add problems for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,' Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
He said the West will 'regret its delusion' that Ukraine can win on the battlefield.
In Kyiv on Friday, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, Lindsey Graham, and Sheldon Whitehouse met with Zelenskyy and Ukrainian military officials. VOA's Kyiv correspondent Anna Chernikova reported that during a press conference, the senators asserted the U.S. should provide tanks and long-range weapons to Ukraine to stop Russia's invasion.
They expressed their conviction that Ukraine needs this help now, because time is not on the side of Ukraine and its allies. They also said that if Russian President Vladimir Putin is not stopped now, NATO countries will be next.
The senators appealed to their voters, asserting that their money is necessary to restore the world order. The main message to Ukrainians was that the U.S. would stay with them for as long as it takes.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.