US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin welcomed Germany’s “major decision” to support Ukraine with armoured anti-aircraft systems.
The transfer of 50 of the Cheetah anti-aircraft vehicles, known as Gepards in German, marked a “significant” step that brings important additional capabilities to Ukraine, he said.
Berlin is “a great friend and ally” of the United States, Austin said after an international gathering to discuss Ukraine’s defences at a the US air base in Ramstein, Germany.
“We are all determined to help Ukraine win today and build strength tomorrow,” he said.
It was earlier reported that, Ever since Russia began its invasion on February 24, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has implored Western allies to support Ukraine by sending more offensive weapons such as tanks and planes.
“We don’t want a million of quality bulletproof vests or some special brand helmets. Give me something to defend my country with, my state,” Zelenskyy told Fox News on Friday.
On March 24, Zelenskyy asked NATO to either donate or sell Ukraine 500 tanks. “You have at least 20,000 tanks! Ukraine asked for a percent, one percent of all your tanks to be given or sold to us.”
Now Western governments appear to be starting to answer his call.
Germany has also approved the delivery of 56 “combat tanks” of type Pbv 501 to Ukraine, a German defense ministry spokesperson told CNN on Friday. Known as an “infantry fighting vehicle” (IFVs), the modified Soviet-era Pbv-501 is among the first heavy armor that has been made available to Ukraine forces.
With a range of 300 miles, the German-origin IFVs weigh 13 tonnes and can be fitted with a range of turrets. The earmarked vehicles are currently with an arms supplier in the Czech Republic but they need the permission of Berlin to send them to Ukraine, said Defense Brief.
⚡️Germany approved the transfer of 56 PbV-501 infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine.⚡️ pic.twitter.com/HRC7WNZ8nL
— spook🏳️⚧️ (@spook_info) April 1, 2022
Ukrainian officials previously criticized Germany’s meager offer of 5,000 helmets in January, amid rising fears of an impending Russian invasion.
“We had to change our course in Germany by 180 degrees because Ukraine needed our military support; we tried everything to avoid this war, but it was Putin’s decision to do the opposite and that’s why now we are also delivering weapons to Ukraine,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told CNN.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison also indicated that Australian Bushmaster armored vehicles would be sent to Ukraine, following a direct request from Zelenskyy, The Strategist reported. The four-wheeled, armed Bushmaster is a protected vehicle with up to 10 infantry dismounting it to go into action.
Justin Crump, a military veteran, and CEO of British risk intelligence firm Sibylline, told Insider that Western allies have so far supported Ukraine by mainly supplying defensive weaponry.
“We thought Ukraine would be fighting an insurgency by now, and they’re not. They’re still fighting a conventional war against Russia and we haven’t equipped them for that,” Crump said.
“Sending the handheld systems is useful but they can’t go on the offensive with these weapons, they’re defensive weapons. Well, you can’t defend forever right?”
A recent report by non-partisan think tank The Atlantic Council said that the West needed to “rethink the types of weapons being delivered to Ukraine.”
In order to win a conventional war against Russia, Ukraine needs large-scale deliveries of offensive weapons, such as tanks, artillery, and multiple launch rocket systems, the report said.
The US government plans to work with allies to assist in the transfer of Soviet-made tanks to Ukrainian forces, a government official in Washington told The New York Times on Friday.
The move marks the first time the US has helped deliver tanks to Ukraine since Russia invaded over five weeks ago.
The US previously rejected an offer from Poland to transfer Soviet-era warplanes to Ukraine, with the Pentagon saying it could pose “serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.”
The Defense Department also announced a new $300 million package of security aid to Ukraine on Friday, including laser-guided rocket systems, Switchblade loitering missile drones, nonstandard ammunition, and medical supplies.
Although Western governments appear to be ramping up their support, Zelenskyy has been critical of continued delays in weapons delivery. Indeed, the armored vehicles promised by Germany could take weeks to arrive on the battlefield, experts say.
Speaking to Fox News on Friday, Zelenskyy questioned whether Western governments were”playing games.”
“If we can see that the process of transferring those weapons is getting slower, then people begin to ask the question. Is it really true?” he said.
“Maybe there is some game behind it. I don’t want to believe that some partners of ours are playing games.”