A Ukrainian tank fires at Russian positions in the Lugansk region on January 12

Ramstein Air Base (Germany) (AFP) - Germany said Friday that no decision had been made on providing battle tanks sought by Kyiv at a crucial US-led meeting on boosting military aid to Ukraine, despite an emotional plea from President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Expectations had grown ahead of the meeting at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany that the allies would agree to send German-made Leopard tanks, amid mounting pressure from several European countries.

But German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters on the sidelines of the event that “we still cannot say when a decision will be taken, and what the decision will be, when it comes to the Leopard tank”.

He also denied accusations that Germany alone was blocking tank deliveries. The impression that “there is a united coalition and that Germany is standing in the way is wrong”, he said.

Pistorius added that he had ordered a stock-take of Germany’s Leopards so that action could follow quickly if a decision were made to allow their delivery.

Kyiv wants the powerful Leopard tanks to press offensives against Russian troops, but the Kremlin has warned their delivery by the West would amount to an “extremely dangerous” escalation.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius denied accusations that Germany alone was blocking tank deliveries

Germany’s hesitation on supplying the tanks has led to fierce criticism of Berlin from other countries such as Finland and Poland, which have their own stocks of Leopards but would need German approval to send them.

- ‘Reliable ally’ -

But the meeting’s host, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, defended Germany against criticism it was not doing enough to help Kyiv.

“We could all do more,” Austin said, emphasising that Berlin was a “reliable ally”.

Zelensky renewed his plea Friday for Western allies to “speed up” arms deliveries to Ukraine in a video address to the conference, which gathered representatives from 50 countries.

Partners needed “not to bargain about different numbers of tanks but to open that principal supply that will stop evil”, he said.

War in Ukraine

Make the meeting a “Ramstein of tanks”, Zelensky added, calling for future gatherings to “go down in history as a Ramstein of F-16s and long-range missiles”.

Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said after the meeting he was “convinced” Ukraine’s allies would eventually form a coalition to provide Leopard tanks.

“This hope comes from the fact that defence ministers from 15 countries met on the sidelines of today’s conference and we discussed this matter,” he said.

The Kremlin responded by accusing the West of harbouring a “dramatic delusion” that Ukraine could win on the battlefield, adding that the conflict was “developing in an upward spiral”.

- ‘Very difficult’ -

Ahead of the meeting in Ramstein, Western allies had offered a flurry of new arms shipments.

Ukrainian military medical staff treat a slightly wounded Ukrainian soldier near the eastern front line

The Pentagon offered $2.5 billion worth of supplies for Ukrainian forces including Bradley fighting vehicles, armoured personnel carriers, air defence systems and tens of thousands of rockets and artillery rounds.

But it did not include the ATA long-range missiles sought by Ukraine, as Western partners fear that Kyiv could use the weapons to hit deep inside Russian territory or in Crimea, the peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014.

Austin defended the latest military offerings as a “really capable package” that “demonstrate the ongoing resolve” of allies to bolster Ukraine.

He also indicated that Ukraine was expected to mount a counteroffensive against Russia in the coming weeks.

“We have a window of opportunity here between now and the spring… whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive,” Austin said, adding that “that’s not a long time and we have to pull together the right capabilities.”

Austin also stressed that allies’ support was necessary for the long haul, as he offered a sombre assessment of progress on the frontlines.

“From a military standpoint I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from all, every inch of… Russian-occupied Ukraine,” added US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mark Milley.

“It doesn’t mean it can’t happen… but it’d be very, very difficult. I think what can happen is a continued defence stabilised in the front,” he said.

- ‘We’ll be homeless’ -

Almost a year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the most intense fighting in recent months has centred around the eastern Donetsk region.

In besieged Bakhmut, a couple stood across the street from their apartment building watching helplessly as their home burned, having been set ablaze after a shell hit nearby.

“Look, look, it’s my flat, it’s the only flat I have,” said Olga Tomakh, 70, on the verge of tears.

“We’ll be homeless,” said her husband Mykola, 71.

About 15 kilometres from Bakhmut, in Soledar, the first humanitarian convoy of the UN finally arrived in the town that has been largely reduced to rubble by intense fighting.

“Recent fighting in and around Soledar has caused widespread destruction, leaving people there in dire need of humanitarian assistance,” said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

Russia claims to have seized Soledar but Ukraine insists the fighting, in which both sides have suffered heavy losses, is ongoing.