Germany said it would need agreement from allies to give the green light for the delivery of German-made tanks to Ukraine to fend off Moscow's invasion, apparently dashing Kyiv's hopes for a quick decision.
Defence Ministers from NATO and other countries were meeting in Germany amid warnings that Russia will soon reenergise its almost 11-month-old invasion to seize parts of Ukraine's east and south it says it has annexed but does not fully control.
The United States and Finland announced large new military aid packages before the gathering at Ramstein Air Base, where the focus was on whether Germany would allow countries in Europe that use its Leopard 2 tanks to re-export them to Ukraine.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said he could not say when there would be a decision on the tanks but that Germany was prepared to move fast if there was consensus among allies.
"All pros and cons must be weighed very carefully," Mr. Pistorius said, adding that the issue had been discussed on Friday but no decision had been made.
Mr. Pistorius did not say which, if any, allies were not in agreement with supplying the tanks, or give details of what he saw as the pros and cons of such a policy.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government has appeared reluctant to authorise the re-export of the tanks for fear of provoking Russia. Some Western officials have also flagged the concern that Russia might capture advanced Western weaponry and steal its technology.
The Kremlin said supplying tanks to Ukraine would not help and the West would regret its "delusion" that Kyiv could win on the battlefield.
Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky, speaking at the start of the Ramstein meeting, thanked allies for their support, but said more was needed and more quickly.
"We have to speed up. Time must become our weapon. The Kremlin must lose," said Mr. Zelensky, who earlier implied Germany was holding other countries back from sending their tanks.
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.
Russia was regrouping, recruiting, and trying to re-equip, U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the meeting.
"This is not a moment to slow down. It's a time to dig deeper. The Ukrainian people are watching us," he said, without making specific reference to tanks.
A government source in Germany has said it would move on the Leopard tanks issue if the United States agreed to send Abrams tanks, which were not included in Thursday's U.S. announcement of new military aid. Berlin said the two issues were not linked.
READY TO GO?
Europe's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said earlier that some European countries were ready to send heavy tanks and that he hoped the decision to do so would be taken.
Lithuania, which fears for its own future if Russia overruns Ukraine, said several countries would announce sending the Leopard tanks at the meeting.
"Some of the countries will definitely send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, that is for sure," Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas told Reuters on Thursday about the Ramstein pledges, after 11 nations met in Estonia and pledged new military aid.
Finland pledged more than 400 million euros ($434 million) worth of extra defence equipment for Ukraine and has indicated it could add Leopard tanks if there is an agreement with allies.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was "moderately pessimistic" Berlin would give the green light. His government has suggested Poland may go ahead anyway.
The German government said on Friday it had no information on an official request to Germany from any country for permission to re-export German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
Kyiv and Moscow have relied mainly on Soviet-era T-72 tanks in warfare long thought outmoded; hundreds have been destroyed in what Russian President Vladimir Putin calls a "special military operation" to protect Russia and Russian speakers.
Ukraine and its allies say Russia faces no threat and is just trying to grab territory.
The U.S. aid announced on Thursday, was valued at up to $2.5 billion, and includes 59 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 90 Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers, making a total of more than $27.4 billion in U.S. security aid. It did not include Abrams tanks, which U.S. officials say are complicated and guzzle fuel.
CIA DIRECTOR VISIT
Kyiv has repeatedly said it has no plans to attack Russia, only defend itself.
"Ukrainians will fight! With tanks or without. But every tank from Ramstein means saved Ukrainian lives," Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk wrote on Telegram.
CIA Director William Burns travelled in secret to Ukraine's capital Kyiv to meet Mr. Zelensky, a U.S. official told Reuters on Thursday, declining to say when the visit took place.
The Washington Post, which first reported the visit, said it was at the end of last week and that Burns briefed Mr. Zelensky on his expectations on Russia's military plans.
Fighting has been most intense in Ukraine's industrialised eastern Donbas region, which Russia claimed to have annexed in September along with two regions in the south.
Germany's foreign intelligence service said the Ukrainian army was losing a three-digit number of soldiers every day, news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Friday. Neither Russia nor Ukraine regularly detail their own losses, but Ukraine says Russian losses are higher than its own.