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Tanks a lot! US and Germany gear up for showdown over Ukraine’s armored arsenal

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The defense chiefs of the United States and Germany are headed for a showdown over weapons that Ukraine says could decide the fate of the war. Ukraine pleaded on Thursday for the West to finally send it heavy tanks, as US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Germany to meet new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, shortly after Pistorius was sworn into office. The next day, both will convene dozens of allies to pledge weapons for Ukraine at the United States’ Ramstein Air Base, a meeting billed as a chance to provide the arms to shift the war’s momentum in 2023.

Billions of dollars worth of military aid is expected, but the meeting is likely to be judged a failure unless it produces a major commitment of heavy tanks, which Kyiv says it needs to fend off Russian assaults and recapture its occupied territory. A big pledge of tanks will require resolving a stand-off between Washington and Berlin, which has so far blocked allies from sending its Leopard 2 tanks, workhorse of militaries across Europe. Washington and many Western allies say the Leopards are the only suitable option available in big enough numbers.

A German government source said Berlin would lift its objections if Washington sends its own Abrams tanks. US officials say the Abrams is inappropriate for Ukraine, because it runs on turbine engines that use too much fuel for Kyiv’s strained logistics system to keep them supplied at the front.

Poland and Finland have already said they would send Leopards if Germany lifts its veto, and other countries have indicated they are ready to do so as well. Britain added to the pressure by breaking the taboo on heavy tanks last week, offering a squadron from its fleet of Challengers, though far fewer of these are available than Leopards. Germany has been reluctant to send offensive weapons that could be seen as escalating the conflict. Many of its Western allies say that concern is misplaced, with Russia showing no sign of backing away from its onslaught against Ukraine.

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