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Ukraine war live updates: Germany defers on letting allies send its tanks to Kyiv; Wagner Group could have up to 50,000 troops in Ukraine


Social Democrat (SPD) interior minister of the state of Lower Saxony Boris Pistorius is to serve as Germany’s next defence minister, two sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

Florian Gaertner / Contributor / Getty Images

Western forces agreed during a key meeting in Germany to increase their military support for Ukraine, but Berlin wavered on further EU tank deliveries despite mounting calls from Kyiv and fellow allies.

“Today, we can all not yet say when a decision will be made about Leopard and what this decision will look like,” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said at the end of a meeting held at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base held with several defense leaders from across the world, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

He stressed that he intends for Berlin to be prepared if and when a decision is taken on Leopard 2 tanks. He added that he on Friday instructed an inspection of the German Leopard 2 inventories, both in military and in domestic industry stocks, ahead of a prospective decision.

German leaders, wary of provoking Russia, have faced mounting criticism for their apparent reluctance to send Ukraine more powerful weapons.

Read the full story here.

— Sophie Kiderlin and Hannah Ward-Glenton

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expects “strong decisions” from defense chiefs of NATO member countries, who are meeting at Germany’s Ramstein air base to reach a decision on whether to send powerful German Leopard tanks to Ukraine’s army.

Speaking to the leaders via video link, Zelenskyy stressed that “we must act fast,” saying that the Ukraine-Russia conflict is about “what kind of world we will live in” and that “the Kremlin must lose.”

“You are strong people of powerful countries,” he said to the audience. “I encourage you to make such decisions that can deprive Russian evil of any power. It is in your power to guarantee artillery and aircraft that will crush terror. It is in your power to make victory.”

— Natasha Turak

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin attends a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the American military’s Ramstein Air Base, near Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany, September 8, 2022.

Thilo Schmuelgen | Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged allies to “dig deeper” in their support for Ukraine, after Washington unveiled another $2.5 billion military aid package for the embattled country.

“This is a crucial moment. Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip,” Austin said from the U.S. military’s Ramstein air base in Germany. “This is not a moment to slow down. It’s a time to dig deeper.”

“But Ukrainian people are watching us,” he added. “The Kremlin is watching us, and history is watching us. So we won’t let up. And we won’t waver in our determination to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia’s imperial aggression.”

Austin said that some 50 countries have helped Ukraine to defend itself, adding that the new U.S. package gives “even more air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its cities and its skies.”

— Natasha Turak

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda at a press conference after their talks in Kyiv on May 22, 2022.

Sergei Supinsky | Afp | Getty Images

Poland is ready to take “non-standard action” and send Ukraine two of its Leopard tanks if Germany opposes the move, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski said.

“I do not rule out that we are ready to take such a step,” Jablonski was quoted by Reuters as telling a private radio station.

“At the moment we are trying to make Germany not only agree these tanks being sent by Poland or other countries, but also to do so themselves.”

NATO allies are meeting at Germany’s Ramstein air base for a crucial decision on whether to send German Leopard 2 tanks from various European armies to Ukraine, a move that requires Berlin’s approval even for other countries because it is a German re-export.

Ukraine has long been pleading for the heavy weaponry it says is essential for pushing back against Russian forces, and its close ally Poland has echoed its calls. Germany has been slow to approve sending heavy weaponry to Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia.

“I think that if there is strong resistance, we will be ready to take even such non-standard action… but let’s not anticipate the facts,” Jablonski said.

— Natasha Turak

Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group now has tens of thousands of fighters deployed in Ukraine, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its latest intelligence update.

The private military company formally registered as a legal entity in Russia just in December 2022, describing its core activity as “management consultancy,” despite years of documented combat activities in parts of Africa, the Middle East and now Ukraine.

“Wagner almost certainly now commands up to 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become a key component of the Ukraine campaign,” Britain’s Defense Ministry wrote in its update on Twitter.

“The registration likely aims to maximise Prigozhin’s commercial gain and to further legitimise the increasingly high-profile organisation.”

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine has repeatedly asked for battle tanks from its Western allies.

Sean Gallup / Staff / Getty Images

Defense chiefs of NATO countries are meeting at Germany’s Ramstein air base to discuss providing Ukraine with main battle tanks.

The decision is a long time coming, as Kyiv has been requesting tanks for months but Western allies have shown reluctance to oblige as they fear provoking Russia.

Germany has veto power to stop any effort by the 30-country alliance to send Kyiv its Leopard 2 tanks, which would be exported by armies in a number of NATO countries. German Chancellor Olaf Sholz has so far been reserved in his willingness to send certain powerful weaponry to Ukraine, drawing criticism from other supporters of the country.

— Natasha Turak

Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska attends a “Special Dialogue with CEO’s” meeting during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, January 18, 2023.

Arnd Wiegmann | Reuters

Ukraine’s first lady called on businesses and politicians at Davos to keep funding humanitarian support for her war-weary country.

“First human, then capital. Humanity comes first. Values come first. And when we tell the world about protecting our country and rebuilding after hostilities, we mean, first of all, protecting people and restoring normal life for them as much as possible,” Olena Zelenska said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Zelenska was joined by Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and First Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko.

— Amanda Macias

A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on December 7, 2021.

Alexander Nemenov | AFP | Getty Images

The State Department said it was aware of unconfirmed reports of an espionage investigation regarding a U.S. citizen in Russia.

“Generally, the Russian Federation does not abide by its obligations to provide timely notification, often detention of U.S. citizens in Russia,” deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said during a daily press briefing when asked about the matter.

“Russian authorities also don’t regularly inform the Embassy of the trials, sentencing or movement of U.S. citizens. We’re looking into this matter and we’ll continue to monitor,” Patel said, adding that the U.S. embassy in Moscow was engaging with Russian authorities.

— Amanda Macias