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UK and Baltic states urge allies to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine

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LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is still seeking an international deal to supply Ukraine with German-made tanks that Kyiv says it needs in its war against Russia but whose transfer would require German approval, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Sunday.

Western allies pledged billions of dollars in arms supplies to Ukraine last week, although they failed to persuade Germany to lift its veto over the provision of Leopard battle tanks, which are held by a group of NATO countries, but whose supply to Ukraine requires Berlin’s approval.

Defense experts believe that the Tiger tanks are the most suitable for Ukraine.

“Of course, I would like to see the Ukrainians equipped with things like the Leopard 2 in addition to the artillery systems that we and others have provided,” Cleverly said in an interview with Sky News.

“I will continue to have these conversations with our NATO allies and friends to facilitate the donation of the best military equipment to Ukraine to help them defend themselves against this brutal invasion,” he said.

Asked if Germany was doing enough to help Ukraine, Cleverly said he wanted to see “everyone go as far as possible, but each country will support Ukraine in the way that suits them best.”

At Friday’s meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged allies to do more to support Ukraine. But officials said no decision had been reached on the supply of Leopard tanks, despite pledges of large shipments of other weapons.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democratic Party is traditionally suspicious of military interventions and fears a further escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.

A Kremlin spokesman said on Friday that Western countries supplying the extra tanks to Ukraine would not change the course of the conflict and would add to the problems of the Ukrainian people.

A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday that the delivery of offensive weapons to Kyiv that would threaten Russian territory would lead to a global catastrophe and would make arguments against the use of weapons of mass destruction unacceptable.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma – Russia’s lower house of parliament – has warned that US and NATO support for Ukraine is leading the world into an “apocalyptic war”.

“If Washington and NATO countries supply weapons that will be used to strike civilian cities and try to seize our lands, as they threaten, this will lead to retaliatory measures using more powerful weapons. The arguments that nuclear powers have not used mass weapons of destruction in local conflicts are untenable. Because these countries did not face a situation in which there was a threat to the security of their citizens and their territorial integrity,” Volodin wrote in the Telegram messaging app.

Germany calls

Boris Pistorius, Germany’s new defense minister, said he hoped to visit Ukraine as soon as possible. “What is certain is that I will travel to Ukraine quickly. Maybe even in the next four weeks,” he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Asked when the decision on Leopard tanks for Ukraine will be made, Pistorius said, “We are in very close dialogue with our international partners, first and foremost with the United States, on this issue.”

In order to better prepare for possible decisions, he said, he instructed the ministry on Friday to “examine everything to the point where we don’t waste time unnecessarily” when sending in tanks.

Meanwhile, the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania on Saturday issued a joint call to Germany to step up its leadership and send its main battle tanks to Ukraine. “We – the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – call on Germany to provide Ukraine with Leopard tanks now. This is necessary to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and quickly restore peace in Europe. Germany, as the leading European power, bears a special responsibility in this regard, “writes the foreign minister Estonia on Twitter.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February last year sparked fears in the tiny Baltic states – all NATO members who restored their independence after decades of Soviet rule in 1991 – that they, too, might come under attack from Moscow.

On Sunday, Poland’s prime minister criticized Germany’s decision not to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine, calling the country’s position “unacceptable”. Polish Prime Minister “Germany’s position is unacceptable. Almost a year has passed since the war started. Innocent people are dying every day. Russian bombs are wreaking havoc on Ukrainian cities. Civilian targets are being attacked, women and children are being killed,” Mateusz Moravecki told the Associated Press of Pakistan.

Poland had announced earlier that it was ready to deliver 14 Leopard tanks to Kyiv and says it is discussing the matter with about 15 countries. “If Berlin refuses to supply tanks to Ukraine, we will form a ‘small coalition’ of countries willing to donate some of their modern equipment, their modern tanks,” Moraviki said.

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