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Kyiv ups pressure on West for weapons, Moscow warns ‘dangerous’

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Ukrainian soldiers at their comrades' funeral in Lviv, Ukraine./AFP
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Jan 19, 2023 - 01:40 PM

KYIV, UKRAINE — Ukraine on Thursday intensified pressure on Western allies to provide heavier weapons and Leopard tanks to step up the fight against Russia ahead of a major donor meeting.

The Kremlin swiftly warned against an “extremely dangerous” escalation if the West — long fearful of getting into a full-blown war with nuclear-armed Russia — sent longer range weapons to Kyiv.

Adressing the annual World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky singled out Germany for its hesitance to supply its modern Leopard tanks — unless the United States also gives tanks.

“There are times where we shouldn’t hesitate,” Zelensky said via video-link.

“When someone says ‘I will give tanks if someone else will also share tanks’… I don’t think this is the right strategy to go with.”

Zelensky’s foreign and defence ministers subsequently echoed his plea, urging allies to “considerably” boost arms deliveries and calling on countries that have Leopard tanks, including Germany and Turkey, to send them.

“We appeal to all partner states… to considerably reinforce their practical contribution,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in a joint statement.

Western partners fear that Ukraine could use long-range weapons to hit deep inside Russian territory or Crimea —  a peninsula Moscow annexed in 2014 — despite Kyiv promising it would not do so.

‘Whole new level’ 

In Moscow, the Kremlin warned of escalating the conflict to a “whole new level” if the West answers Ukraine’s latest calls.

“Potentially, this is extremely dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“It will mean bringing the conflict to a whole new level, which, of course, will not bode well from the point of view of global and pan-European security,” he added.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration is considering the potential of Ukraine using American-supplied weapons against Russian targets in Crimea.

On Friday, the United States is to convene a meeting of around 50 countries — including all 30 members of NATO — at the US military base of Ramstein in Germany to discuss military aid to Ukraine.

“The main message there will be more support and more advanced support, heavier weapons, and more modern weapons, because this is a fight for our values,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in Davos on Wednesday.

Many Ukrainian allies have recently announced plans to step up their military support to Kyiv. Last weekend Britain became the first Western nation to pledge heavy tanks.

Chopper crash probe 

The United States has promised to send its powerful Bradley armoured fighting vehicles, while France has offered its highly mobile AMX-10 RCs — offensive weapons long seen as off-limits by hesitant Western nations.

Sweden announced on Thursday it would supply its modern long-range Archer artillery units.

EU chief Charles Michel announced that he was travelling to Kyiv to reiterate Europe’s support.

Air raid sirens wailed on Thursday in Kyiv and nationwide, a day after a helicopter crash outside the capital killed the interior minister and 13 others near a kindergarten.

The crash killed Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky, 42, one of Zelensky’s key aides who was involved in exchange of prisoners of war and other key tasks.

He was the highest-ranking Ukrainian official to die since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Zelensky said the investigation into the accident was ongoing, with several theories being examined.

‘No time to waste’ 

Weapons already provided by the West have been credited with helping Ukraine win back territory in recent months, including in the eastern Donetsk region.

On the ground in a recaptured part of Donetsk, volunteers tread carefully in collecting abandoned bodies.

“There is no time to waste — animals and nature are destroying them and if we don’t hurry, we won’t manage to bring all of our soldiers home,” said Oleksiy Yukov, who last September lost an eye and sustained leg injuries when a mine exploded as he was trying to recover a body.

After nearly a year of war, Kyiv’s allies still fear getting into a full-blown war with nuclear-armed Russia.

Germany has been very cautious in providing heavy weapons, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz under rising pressure from European allies to authorise the export of the Leopard tank ahead of Friday’s meeting.

A senior US congressman, Gregory Meeks, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Scholz wanted Washington and Berlin to work together.

“It’s basically that it’s got to be the United States and Germany. There’s no question about that,” Meeks told AFP, adding that the talks were continuing.

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