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EU approves more military aid to Ukraine, Germany faces pressure on tanks


A Ukrainian serviceman looks on and a local resident rides a bicycle while a broken tank is pulled to a truck near the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 20, 2023. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak

The European Union ratified on Monday more military aid to Ukraine worth 500 million euros, sources said, as Berlin faced more pressure over calls from Kyiv to supply it with German-made Leopard tanks.

Agreement on the seventh such tranche of aid came as the EU’s 27 foreign ministers met in Brussels after Western countries failed last week to agree on sending Ukraine battle tanks – but pledged billions worth of support.

The 500 million euro ($542 million) package was approved along with a further 45 million for “non-lethal equipment” for the EU’s military training mission for Ukraine, said an EU diplomat. Two other sources following the ministers’ closed-doors talks confirmed that.

Germany’s Leopard tanks, fielded by armies across Europe, are widely seen as the best fit for Ukraine, but Berlin must authorise their sale and has yet to do so.

Poland said on Monday it could send those tanks as part of a coalition of countries.

Arriving at the Brussels meeting, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock declined to elaborate on comments on Sunday when she said that Berlin would not stand in Poland’s way.

She said it was important to “do everything we can to defend Ukraine”.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s centre-left Social Democrat party argues the West should avoid sudden moves that might escalate the war. But several allies reject that position, saying Russia is already fully committed to its 11-month-old assault on Ukraine.

“At this point there are no good arguments why battle tanks cannot be provided,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said. “The argument of escalation does not work, because Russia continues escalating.”

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the tanks should not be held up one more day, while Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu said Germany, as an “engine of Europe”, had particular responsibility to help Ukraine. Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said Russia could win the war if Europeans “don’t help Ukraine with what they need now”.

The ministers were expected to discuss – but not reach a decision on – using Russian assets frozen in Europe to help rebuild Ukraine, as well as a 10th package of sanctions against Russia to take effect next month.

Hungary, a vocal Russia dove in the EU, approved the 500 million tranche but signalled its opposition to more sanctions, especially if they were to restrict Budapest’s cooperation with Moscow in nuclear energy.

“All decisions that could prolong the war or lead to a potential escalation are against our interests,” said Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto. “It’s been proven that sanctions are leading Europe into a dead-end street.”

($1 = 0.9174 euros)