Ukraine on Tuesday came a step closer to attempting to acquire a fleet of modern main battle tanks that it hopes could change the tide of the war with Russia after Western big opposition Germany said it was the first item on the agenda of his new Secretary of Defense.
In downtown Dnipro, authorities have ended a search for survivors in the ruins of an apartment building destroyed in Russian rocket attacks on Saturday.
According to Ukrainian officials, 44 people were killed and 20 remain unaccounted for in the attack, the deadliest for civilians in a three-month Russian missile bombing campaign. 79 people were injured and 39 rescued from the rubble.
Nearly 11 months after Russia invaded, Kyiv says a fleet of Western main battle tanks would give its troops the mobile firepower to rout Russian troops in crucial battles in 2023.
German-made Leopard main battle tanks, workhorses of armies across Europe, cannot be shipped out of Berlin without a permit, which has so far raised objections.
As Western allies meet at a US airbase in Germany on Friday to pledge military support to Ukraine, Berlin is under heavy pressure to withdraw its objections this week.
The decision lies on the desk of Germany’s new Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, who was named on Tuesday to replace Christine Lambrecht, who quit after comments critics called insensitive.
“If the person is declared defense minister, that is the first question that has to be decided specifically,” German Economics Minister Robert Habeck told Deutschlandfunk on Tuesday before the appointment was announced.
The regional politician Pistorius, who is considered to be close to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, did not mention any weapons for Ukraine in his first statements: “I know how important the task is,” he said in a statement. “It’s important to me to involve the soldiers closely and take them with me.”
Pistorius will receive US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday before the allies’ meeting on Friday at Ramstein Air Force Base.
Germany was wary of approving weapons that could be viewed as escalating conflict.
Scholz confirmed in an interview for Bloomberg TV on Tuesday that talks with Germany’s allies about tanks are ongoing but should not be held publicly.
The Kremlin said last week that new shipments of arms, including French-made armored vehicles, to Kyiv would “deepen the suffering of the Ukrainian people” and would not change the course of the conflict.
Vladimir Solovyev, a pro-Kremlin host on state TV Rossiya 1, said all Western countries supplying Ukraine with more advanced weapons should be considered legitimate targets for Russia.
Since President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine on February 24, the United States and its allies have deployed tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons, including missile systems, drones, armored vehicles and communications systems.
Ukraine’s top general Valeriy Saluzhnyi said he outlined the “urgent needs” of his armed forces at a first face-to-face meeting with US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley on Tuesday in Poland.
Poland and Finland have already announced that they will send leopards if Berlin receives a re-export permit.
Separately, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told US President Joe Biden on Tuesday that the Netherlands would join the United States and Germany in sending Patriot missiles to Ukraine.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said NATO allies would send a clear message to Putin by stepping up arms sales to Ukraine.
“The message we are sending to Putin is that we are committed to supporting Ukrainians until they are victorious,” Cleverly told a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
A senior Ukrainian official accused Russia of carrying out the bulk of more than 2,000 cyberattacks on Ukraine in 2022, telling a press conference that he himself was delayed over a cyberattack. There was initially no comment from Moscow on his allegations.
Tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced from their homes since Russia launched a so-called “military special operation” to eliminate security threats in Ukraine last February. Kyiv and its Western supporters describe Russia’s actions as land grabs.
Ukrainian forces drove back Russian troops in the second half of 2022, but over the past two months front lines have largely been frozen, although both sides have suffered heavy casualties in relentless fighting.
Moscow has turned to a tactic since October of raining missiles on Ukrainian cities far from the frontlines to the east and south, targeting mostly power infrastructure.
Russia wants to limit Ukraine’s combat capability; According to Kyiv, the attacks serve no military purpose and are intended to harm civilians, a war crime.
In Dnipro, residents left flowers and stuffed animals at a makeshift memorial near the block of flats destroyed in a wave of rocket attacks on Saturday.
Hundreds of mourners said goodbye to boxing coach Mykhailo Korenovskyi, who was killed in a strike, while footage showed his apartment’s kitchen, decorated in bright yellow colors, now exposed to the air after the outer wall was demolished.
A recent family video filmed in the same kitchen showed Korenovskyi’s daughter smiling and blowing out four candles on her birthday cake while he stood behind her and held another child in his arms.
Moscow denies intentionally targeting civilians and blames Ukraine’s air defense for the missile that hit the block of flats. Kyiv says it was hit by a notoriously inaccurate Russian anti-ship missile, for which Ukraine has no defense.
© Thomson Reuters 2023.