Western tanks won’t be game changer in Ukraine – Kremlin
If the US and its allies supply Ukraine with heavy tanks, the consequences for Kiev will only be negative, while it will not seriously impact Russia’s military operation in the country, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed on Friday.
His comments came as top defense officials from Washington and its partners convened at America’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany to discuss further military aid for Ukraine. The US Department of Defense previously announced that one of its top goals for the meeting was to convince Berlin to provide its Leopard 2 tanks to Kiev, or at least allow other countries, such as Poland and Finland, to deliver their own German-made tanks to Ukraine.
However, the ministers failed to reach a unanimous decision on the matter, according to German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius. Berlin has long expressed a hesitancy to allow allied nations to send Leopards to Kiev and is reportedly waiting for the US to send its own Abrams tanks first. The Pentagon, however, declined to include M1 Abrams tanks in its latest package to Ukraine.
Last week, the British government vowed to deliver 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Kiev.
Peskov stated that these supplies will only create more problems for Ukraine and ultimately fail to change anything regarding Russia’s progress on the battlefield.
The spokesman cautioned against exaggerating “the importance of such supplies in terms of their ability to change something,” and explained that “all these tanks will require both maintenance and repairs, and so on,” thus creating more challenges for Kiev’s troops.
Russia has repeatedly insisted that any weapons sent to Ukraine will only serve to prolong the conflict and lead to more unnecessary bloodshed. As for the tanks, Peskov stated earlier this week that if they end up being delivered to Ukraine, they “will burn like the rest” of the Western weapons.
** German intelligence ‘concerned’ over Ukrainian losses
Germany’s Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) is “alarmed” over heavy losses suffered by Ukrainian troops in the conflict between Kiev and Moscow, Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly reported on Friday.
Russian and Ukrainian troops are currently vying for control over the strategic Donbass city of Artyomovsk (called Bakhmut by Ukraine), but the situation there does not look particularly bright for Kiev, the paper said, citing a “secret” meeting between BND officials and the German MPs responsible for decisions in the realm of security.
“The Ukrainian army is currently losing a three-digit number of soldiers every day” in the fight with Russian forces, Der Spiegel said, citing data reportedly presented by intelligence officials during the closed briefing earlier this week.
Earlier this week, The Times reported that Kiev had sent poorly equipped troops with little combat experience to defend Artyomovsk.
If the Russian forces manage to seize the city, it would have “serious consequences” for Kiev, the BND warned, adding that control over Artyomovsk would potentially facilitate major Russian advances deeper into Ukrainian-held territory.
The city of Artyomovsk has become a stronghold of the Ukrainian army in the years since the 2014 coup in Kiev. It is part of a 70-kilometer-long defense line created by the Ukrainian forces during the intervening years. Russia claims sovereignty over the city along with the rest of the Donetsk People’s Republic, which joined Russia in October after a referendum. Kiev rejected the vote as a “sham.”
The city remains a major logistics hub for Ukrainian forces in the region and has emerged as a focal point of the conflict for both sides in recent months. Russian troops have achieved several victories in the area over the last several weeks, taking the city of Soledar and the strategic village of Klescheevka among several other settlements as they seek to encircle Artyomovsk.
Allies offer more weapons to Ukraine, but no decisions made on tanks
Western allies on Friday dampened Ukraine's hopes for a rapid shipment of battle tanks to boost its firepower for a spring offensive against Russian forces, with the United States urging Kyiv to hold off from mounting such an operation.
The top U.S. general, speaking after a meeting of the allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, also said it would be very hard for Ukraine to drive Russia's invading forces from the country this year.
The run-up to the Ramstein meeting had been dominated by the issue of whether Germany would agree to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, or permit other countries that have them to do so.
In the end, no decision on supplying Leopards was reached on Friday, officials said, although pledges were given for large amounts of other weapons, including air defence systems and other tank models.
"We had a frank discussion on Leopards 2. To be continued," Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleskii Reznikov said after the meeting.
The United States was also holding fast to its decision not to provide Abrams tanks to Ukraine yet, a senior U.S. official said in Washington.
In Ramstein, U.S. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference: "From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year, it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine."
The developments likely came as a disappointment to Ukraine, as the war unleashed by a Russian invasion last February grinds on, with no solution nor let-up in sight. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had specifically requested more battle tanks.
Ukraine was hit especially hard this week, reporting 44 people confirmed dead and 20 unaccounted for after a Russian missile attack on an apartment block in Dnipro. Russians in St Petersburg and Moscow have been laying flowers at improvised memorials to the victims.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a news conference at the end of the Ramstein meeting that while time was of the essence for Ukraine to take the fight to Russia's forces in the spring, Ukraine was well-equipped even without the Leopards.
"Ukraine is not dependent on a single platform," he said.
U.S. President Joe Biden's administration faces pressure at home to supply more advanced weaponry. A group of U.S. senators visiting Kyiv on Friday blasted the delays. "We should not send American troops to Ukraine, but we should provide Ukraine with whatever we would give our troops if they were fighting on the ground," Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told reporters.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters Ukraine's backers needed to focus not only on sending new weapons, but supplying ammunition for older systems and helping maintain them.
For its part, the Kremlin said supplying tanks to Ukraine would not help and that the West would regret its "delusion" that Kyiv could win on the battlefield.
Germany has been under heavy pressure to allow Leopards to be sent. Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrat party is traditionally sceptical of military involvements and wary of sudden moves that could cause Moscow to further escalate.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said he could not say when there would be a decision on the tanks but Berlin was prepared to move quickly if there was consensus among allies.
"All pros and cons must be weighed very carefully," Pistorius said.
Defence ministers from NATO and other countries met at Ramstein amid concern that Russia would soon reenergize its military campaign to seize parts of Ukraine's east and south that it says it has annexed but does not fully control.
Zelenskiy thanked allies for their support at the start of the meeting, but said more was needed and more quickly.
"We have to speed up. Time must become our weapon. The Kremlin must lose," he said.
** Navy SEAL Killed Fighting In Ukraine
An American Navy SEAL was killed this week during Russia’s assault on eastern Ukraine after going AWOL to fight alongside Ukrainian forces, a Navy official tells TIME.
Daniel Swift, a Navy Special Warfare Operator First Class, died after suffering injuries with a unit under attack by Russia, the official said.
The Navy Absentee Collection and Information Centers said that Swift has been in “an active deserter status since March 11, 2019,” according to his service records obtained by TIME.
Swift received an Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, according to his releasable service records.
The U.S. State Department wouldn’t confirm Swift’s identity but said in a statement that an American was killed in action.
“We can confirm the recent death of a U.S. citizen fighting in Ukraine,” the statement says. “We are in touch with his family and providing all possible consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of the family during this difficult time, we have nothing further to add.”
Since Russia first invaded Ukraine last February, the Biden Administration has insisted that U.S. troops will not fight in Ukraine and encouraged Americans not to travel to fight there.