After US offer, Germany unleashes Leopard tanks for Ukraine
By Frank Jordans And Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin
BERLIN (AP) — After weeks of hesitation that created impatience among Germany’s allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Wednesday that his government would provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 battle tanks and approve requests by other countries to do the same.
The German government said it would initially provide Ukraine with one company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks, or 14 vehicles. The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with 88 of the German-made Leopards, which comprise two battalions.
“This is the result of intensive consultations, once again, with our allies and international partners,” Scholz said in an address to German lawmakers.
“It was right and it is important that we didn’t let ourselves be driven (into making the decision),” he added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed satisfaction at the news. Several European countries have equipped their armies with Leopard 2 tanks, and Germany’s announcement means they can give some of their stocks to Ukraine.
“German main battle tanks, further broadening of defense support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter. “Sincerely grateful to the chancellor and all our friends in (Germany).”
The long-awaited decision came after U.S. officials revealed Tuesday a preliminary agreement for the United States to send M1 Abrams tanks to help Ukraine’s troops push back Russian forces that remain entrenched in the country’s east almost a year after Russia invaded its neighbor. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public.
It is not clear when or how the tanks would be delivered to Ukraine, or how soon they could have an impact on the battlefield. Military analysts have said Russian forces are thought to be preparing for a spring offensive.
While Ukraine’s supporters previously have supplied tanks, they were Soviet models in the stockpiles of countries that once were in Moscow’s sphere of influence but are now aligned with the West. Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials insisted their forces need more modern Western-designed tanks to defeat Russia.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Germany’s decision. “At a critical moment in Russia’s war, these can help Ukraine to defend itself, win and prevail as an independent nation,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.
Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Sergey Nechayev, called Berlin’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine “extremely dangerous.”
The move “shifts the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about their reluctance to get involved in it,” Nechayev said in a statement.
“We’re seeing yet again that Germany, as well as its closest allies, is not interested in a diplomatic resolution of the Ukraine crisis. it is determined to permanently escalate it and to indefinitely pump the Kyiv regime full of new lethal weapons,” the statement read.
Scholz had insisted that any decision to provide Ukraine with powerful Leopard 2 tanks would need to be taken in conjunction with Germany’s allies, chiefly the United States. By getting Washington to commit some of its own tanks, Berlin hopes to share the risk of any backlash from Russia.
Ekkehard Brose, head of the German military’s Federal Academy for Security Policy, said tying the United States into the decision was crucial, to avoid Europe facing a nuclear-armed Russia alone.
But he also noted the deeper historic significance of the decision.
“German-made tanks will face off against Russian tanks in Ukraine once more,” he said, adding that this was “not an easy thought” for Germany, which takes its responsibility for the horrors of World War II seriously.
“And yet it is the right decision,” Brose said, arguing that it was up to Western democracies to help Ukraine stop Russia’s military campaign.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius cautioned that it would take about three months for the first tanks to be deployed in Ukraine. He described the Leopard 2 as “the best battle tank in the world.”
“This is an important game change, possibly also for this war, at least in the current phase,” he said.
The German government said it planned to swiftly begin training Ukrainian tank crews in Germany. The package being put together would also include logistics, ammunition and maintenance.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described German and U.S. intentions with the tanks as a “a rather disastrous plan.”
“I am convinced that many specialists understand the absurdity of this idea,” Peskov told reporters Wednesday.
“Simply because of technological aspects, this is a rather disastrous plan. The main thing is, this is a completely obvious overestimation of the potential (the supply of tanks) would add to the armed forces of Ukraine. It is yet another fallacy, a rather profound one,” the Kremlin official said.
Peskov predicted “these tanks will burn down just like all the other ones. … Except they cost a lot, and this will fall on the shoulders of European taxpayers.” he added.
Germany has already provided considerable amounts of military hardware to Ukraine, including powerful PzH 2000 howitzers, Iris-T air-defense systems and Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns that have proved highly effective against Russian drones. It also announced plans to supply a Patriot air-defense battery and Marder infantry fighting vehicles.
Ahead of Scholz’s official announcement, members of his three-party coalition government welcomed the Cabinet’s agreement to supply the domestically made tanks.
“The Leopard’s freed!” German lawmaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a senior Green party lawmaker, said.
However, two smaller opposition parties criticized the move. The far-right Alternative for Germany, which has friendly ties to Russia, called the decision “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“Germany risks being drawn directly into the war as a result,” party co-leader Tino Chrupalla said.
The Left party, which also has historic links to Moscow, warned of a possible escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Recent opinion polls showed German voters split on the idea.
Scholz sought to reassure people in his country who were concerned about the implications of sending tanks to Ukraine.
“Trust me, trust the government,” he said. “By acting in an internationally coordinated manner, we will ensure that this support is possible without the risks to our country growing in the wrong direction.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who had previously called into question Germany’s commitment to helping Ukraine, thanked Scholz following Wednesday’s announcement.
“The decision to send Leopards to Ukraine is a big step towards stopping Russia,” Morawiecki wrote on Twitter. “Together we are stronger.”
Other European nations, such as Finland and Spain, indicated a willingness Wednesday to part with their own Leopard or similar battle tanks as part of a larger coalition.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain, which had said it planned to send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, welcomed Germany’s decision to further “strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower.”
“Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace,” Sunak said on Twitter.
Still, it isn’t clear whether Ukraine will receive the estimated 300 tanks that analysts say are required to keep Russia from advancing in Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia provinces and to press a counteroffensive in the country’s southeast.
Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said on Telegram after Germany’s announcement that “many Leopards are needed.”
Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Lee in Washington, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley, right, accompanied by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
By Lolita C. Baldor And Tara Copp in Washington
(AP) — The U.S. military must be ready for possible confrontation with China, the Pentagon’s leaders said Thursday, pushing Congress to approve the Defense Department’s proposed $842 billion budget that would modernize the force in Asia and around the world.
“This is a strategy-driven budget — and one driven by the seriousness of our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in testimony before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
Pointing to increases in new technology, such as hypersonics, Austin said the budget proposes to spend more than $9 billion, a 40% increase over last year, to build up military capabilities in the Pacific and defend allies.
The testimony comes on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, amid concerns China will step up its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and increasingly threaten the West.
China’s actions, said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “are moving it down the path toward confrontation and potential conflict with its neighbors and possibly the United States.” He said that deterring and preparing for war “is extraordinarily expensive, but it’s not as expensive as fighting a war. And this budget prevents war and prepares us to fight it if necessary.”
Milley, who will retire later this year, said the Defense Department must continue to modernize its forces to ensure they will be ready to fight if needed.
Two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan eroded the military’s equipment and troop readiness, so the U.S. has been working to replace weapons systems and give troops time to reset. It’s paid off, Milley told Congress.
“Our operational readiness rates are higher now than they have been in many, many years,” Milley said. More than 60% of the active force is at the highest states of readiness right now and could deploy to combat in less than 30 days, while 10% could deploy within 96 hours, he said.
A look at the uranium-based ammo the UK will send to Ukraine
In this image provided by the U.S. Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force National Guard Explosive Ordnance Disposal Techinicians prepare several contaminated and compromised depleted uranium rounds on June 23, 2022 at Tooele Army Depot, Utah. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Perez/U.S. Air National Guard via AP)
By Tara Copp in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia threatened to escalate attacks in Ukraine after the British government announced it would provide to Ukraine a type of munition that Moscow falsely claims has nuclear components.
The British defense ministry on Monday confirmed it would provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.
Such rounds were developed by the U.S. during the Cold War to destroy Soviet tanks, including the same T-72 tanks that Ukraine now faces in its push to break through a stalemate in the east.
Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process needed to create nuclear weapons. The rounds retain some radioactive properties, but they can’t generate a nuclear reaction like a nuclear weapon would, RAND nuclear expert and policy researcher Edward Geist said.
That didn’t stop the Russians from offering a full-throated warning that the rounds were opening the door to further escalation. In the past, they have suggested the war could escalate to nuclear weapons use.
Both the the British ministry and the White House dismissed the Russian accusations. But the ammunition does carry risks even if it’s not a nuclear weapon.
A look at depleted uranium ammunition:
WHAT IS DEPLETED URANIUM?
Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the process to create the rarer, enriched uranium used in nuclear fuel and weapons. Although far less powerful than enriched uranium and incapable of generating a nuclear reaction, depleted uranium is extremely dense — more dense than lead — a quality that makes it highly attractive as a projectile.
“It’s so dense and it’s got so much momentum that it just keeps going through the armor — and it heats it up so much that it catches on fire,” Geist said.
When fired, a depleted uranium munition becomes “essentially an exotic metal dart fired at an extraordinarily high speed,” RAND senior defense analyst Scott Boston said.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Army began making armor-piercing rounds with depleted uranium and has since added it to composite tank armor to strengthen it. It also has added depleted uranium to the munitions fired by the Air Force’s A-10 close air support attack plane, known as the tank killer. The U.S. military is still developing depleted uranium munitions, notably the M829A4 armor-piercing round for the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank, Boston said.
WHAT HAS RUSSIA SAID?
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday warned that Moscow would “respond accordingly, given that the collective West is starting to use weapons with a ‘nuclear component.’”
The British “have lost their bearings,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, warning that the munitions are “a step toward accelerating escalation.”
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the announcement was “another step, and there aren’t so many of them left.”
The White House denounced Russia’s claims as disinformation.
“Make no mistake, this is yet another straw man through which the Russians are driving a stake,” U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.
Russia also has depleted uranium munitions and just doesn’t want Ukraine to have them, too, according to a White House official, who was not authorized to comment on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Monday that to his knowledge, the U.S. was not sending depleted uranium munitions from its own arsenal to Ukraine.
NOT A BOMB, BUT STILL A RISK
While depleted uranium munitions are not considered nuclear weapons, their emission of low levels of radiation has led the U.N. nuclear watchdog to urge caution when handling and warn of the possible dangers of exposure.
The handling of such ammunition “should be kept to a minimum and protective apparel (gloves) should be worn,” the International Atomic Energy Agency cautions, adding that “a public information campaign may, therefore, be required to ensure that people avoid handling the projectiles.
“This should form part of any risk assessment and such precautions should depend on the scope and number of ammunitions used in an area.”
The IAEA notes that depleted uranium is mainly a toxic chemical, as opposed to a radiation hazard. Particles in aerosols can be inhaled or ingested, and while most would be excreted again, some can enter the blood stream and cause kidney damage.
“High concentrations in the kidney can cause damage and, in extreme cases, renal failure,” the IAEA says.
The low-level radioactivity of a depleted uranium round “is a bug, not a feature” of the munition, Geist said, and if the U.S. military could find another material with the same density but without the radioactivity it would likely use that instead.
Depleted uranium munitions were used in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq’s T-72 tanks and again in the invasion of the country in 2003, as well as in Serbia and in Kosovo. U.S. military veterans of those conflicts have questioned whether their use led to ailments they now face.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Russian parliament’s lower house, said supplies of rounds containing depleted uranium could lead to “a tragedy on a global scale that will primarily affect European countries.”
Volodin said the use of such U.S. ammunition in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq led to “radioactive contamination and a sharp rise in oncological diseases.”
Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Washington, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Menelaos Hadjicostis in Nicosia, Cyprus, contributed to this report.
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