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Pressure Builds on Germany to Approve Tanks for Ukraine

Pressure mounted on Germany to approve the transfer of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, a day after Western allies meeting at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany failed to reach an agreement about sending armored vehicles. 

Edgars Rinkēvičs,

Latvia’s foreign minister, said on Twitter Saturday morning that he and his counterparts from Lithuania and Estonia “call on Germany to provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now. This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly. Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard.”

Zbigniew Rau, the Polish foreign minister, said late Friday that “Ukrainian blood” was the price for the delay in sending Leopard tanks. Poland’s defense minister, meanwhile, told the Voice of America on Friday that it would begin training Ukrainian fighters on the Leopard tanks, even without German approval. 

North Atlantic Treaty Organization members in Europe have fixed on the Leopard 2 tanks as the best option for Ukraine, in large part because they are among the most common tanks in Europe. Modern battle tanks will be essential to any Ukrainian counter-offensives to regain territory, Western officials and analysts say. 

German officials initially said they wouldn’t approve sending Leopards unless the U.S. provided its own Abrams tanks, which the U.S. has so far declined to do, saying they are too difficult to maintain. Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, has told German television that German and U.S. tanks don’t need to be provided at the same time and indicated that his government was still weighing what to do.

Smoke rises in the distance from fighting in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on Friday.


oleg petrasyuk/Shutterstock

A destroyed shop in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, on Friday.


oleg petrasyuk/Shutterstock

Mr. Pistorius also said that allies should start training Ukrainian troops in the use of Leopard tanks, in case a decision is made in the coming days.

Ukrainian President

Volodymyr Zelensky

has expressed growing frustration about the delay. 

“We will still have to fight for the supply of modern tanks, but every day we make it more obvious there is no alternative to making the decision on tanks,” Mr. Zelensky said in his nightly video address on Friday. 

President Biden, meanwhile, on Friday responded to a question at the White House on whether the U.S. supports Poland’s call to provide Leopard tanks to Kyiv by saying “Ukraine is going to get all the help they need.”

While Kyiv’s allies debate their next steps, Moscow continues to claim incremental gains in Ukraine’s east. After seizing the town of Soledar, north of Bakhmut, last week, the Kremlin said on Friday that its troops had captured the settlement of Klishchiivka, to the south. Wagner Group, the Russian paramilitary force, said it had captured Klishchiivka earlier in the week without help from regular Russian forces.

Moscow on Saturday also claimed gains in Ukraine’s south. Russia’s Defense Ministry said an offensive in the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia region had allowed Russian troops to occupy more advantageous positions.

Vladimir Rogov,

a Russian-installed official in the Zaporizhzhia region, said on his Telegram channel Friday that Russian forces had progressed about 7 kilometers, or 4 miles, after launching an offensive there, and captured at least seven villages.

Ukrainian officials didn’t comment on Russia’s claimed advances in Klishchiivka or the Zaporizhzhia region, saying only that there was fighting in both areas. 

The British Ministry of Defense, meanwhile, said the conflict was largely frozen, with little progress for either side in the Zaporizhzhia region, with Russian forces making incremental gains around Bakhmut while Ukrainian forces likely made progress further north, near Kremina, in the Luhansk region. 

“Overall, the conflict is in a state of deadlock. However, there is a realistic possibility of local Russian advances around Bakhmut,” the ministry wrote Saturday on Twitter. 

Meanwhile, the White House on Friday said that the U.S. would designate the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization. 

A building damaged by shelling in Torske, Ukraine.


Emanuele Satolli for The Wall Street Journal

John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said that Wagner had about 50,000 troops in Ukraine, of whom about 40,000 were convicts. Wagner’s leader,

Yevgeny Prigozhin,

has been openly recruiting men from prisons to fight in Ukraine, telling them that if they survive, their criminal records will be wiped clean. Mr. Kirby added that Wagner was also becoming a rival power center to the Russian military. 

“Wagner is a criminal organization that is…committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses, and we will work relentlessly to identify, disrupt, expose, and target those who are assisting Wagner,” Mr. Kirby said. 

While President

Vladimir Putin

has described his invasion as a special military operation, state-media messaging in recent months has increasingly cast the conflict as one pitting Moscow against the West through a proxy war in Ukraine. 

On Saturday, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council and former President

Dmitry Medvedev

called the conflict a new Patriotic War, using Moscow’s term for World War II, now between Russia and Ukraine along with Western Europe. 

“Our country defeated Napoleon and Hitler,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “And victory will be ours. Like in 1812 and 1945.”

Write to Evan Gershkovich at evan.gershkovich@wsj.com

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