Ukraine live briefing: Baltic states urge Germany to provide tanks ‘now’ after no deal reached

A German-made Leopard 2 tank is used by Poland in a May 2022 military exercise. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

Germany faced continued pressure Saturday after a key meeting of Western allies did not come up with a deal to supply Ukraine with the battle tanks that Kyiv says are a crucial part of its bid to take on entrenched Russian forces. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania issued a joint appeal, urging Berlin to provide tanks “now,” adding: “Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard.”

Germany has been unwilling to supply its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, or authorize other nations that use the German-made vehicles to transfer them. It has linked its position on the Leopards to U.S. reluctance to transfer its own M1 Abrams tanks, which Pentagon officials have said are not the best fit for Ukraine in terms of operability and the time they would take to arrive.

In his evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky named and memorialized the 14 killed in a helicopter crash on Wednesday, including Ukrainian Interior Minister Denis Monastyrsky. Zelensky called Monastyrsky a “professional, genuine person, exactly what the Minister of Internal Affairs should be.” At least one child was also killed when the government helicopter crashed near a kindergarten.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects around the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau also criticized the pace of discussions, tweeting on Friday that “Ukrainian blood” was the “price of hesitation” over the delivery of tanks. Poland has said it is ready to send its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but under deals with purchasers, Germany has a say over any transfer.
  • The United States will designate Russia’s Wagner Group a “transnational criminal organization,” the White House said Friday. John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the White House National Security Council, said in a briefing that the mercenary group will face additional punitive sanctions next week. Wagner, founded by a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has committed “widespread atrocities and human rights abuses,” Kirby said.
  • Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak on Saturday urged countries to “think faster,” writing on Twitter that the international community would eventually “help Ukraine with the necessary weapons anyway and realize that there is no other option to end the war. … Today’s indecision is killing more of our people. Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians.”
  • Zelensky joined mourners in Kyiv on Saturday at a memorial for Monastyrsky and other top officials who were killed in the helicopter crash just outside Kyiv this week. The incident appears to have been an accident and is under investigation, according to the Ukrainian government. The deaths brought Zelensky “indescribable sadness,” according to his Telegram post. “Every day we lose people, whom we will always remember and regret that they’re not coming back,” he said in his nightly address.

2. Battleground updates

  • Fighting in Ukraine is “in a state of deadlock,” according to the British Defense Ministry. “However, there is a realistic possibility of local Russian advances around Bakhmut,” in the Donetsk region, the ministry said in its daily update Saturday. In the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine and Russia have both “massed significant forces” but have so far avoided “any large-scale offensive effort.” The Ukrainian military said Russian artillery struck at least 25 settlements in the region Saturday.
  • A former Navy SEAL who had deserted the service was killed in Ukraine this week, the Navy said Friday. He is the latest foreign national to be killed in a war that has attracted thousands of international volunteer fighters.
  • Satellite images shared by the White House appear to show Russian rail cars entering North Korea to collect weapons to supply to the Wagner Group. “North Korea delivered infantry rockets and missiles into Russia for use by Wagner toward the end of last year,” Kirby said. The weapons have “not changed” the dynamics on the battlefield in Ukraine, he said, urging North Korea to halt the deliveries.
  • Air defense systems have been deployed in and around Moscow, with Russia apparently fearful that Ukraine could launch an attack on the Russian capital. The Kremlin declined to comment Friday on the installation of Pantsir-S1 air defense systems at the Ministry of Defense on Frunzenskaya Embankment, and a district education ministry building on Teterinsky Lane, according to independent Russian-language media.

3. Global impact

  • Turkey canceled a visit by the Swedish defense minister Saturday, after officials in Stockholm gave permission for two protests to go ahead: one against Sweden’s NATO bid and in support of Kurds, and another by far-right activists that was set to show the burning of a Quran, according to Reuters. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the Quran burning after it occurred Saturday. Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson was due to travel to Turkey on Friday as part of efforts to support Sweden’s entry into NATO — which has been held up by Ankara’s objections to Sweden’s position on Kurdish groups that Turkey calls terrorists, as well as a group it blames for an attempted coup six years ago.
  • The European Union is working on a 10th package of sanctions against Russia, Reuters reported Friday. The sanctions — which could include curbing the bloc’s nuclear fuel cooperation with Moscow, banning imports of Russian diamonds and reducing trade with pro-Kremlin Belarus — are expected to be ready by late February.
  • Britain has accepted Ukraine’s invitation to an international coalition pursuing criminal accountability of Russia’s invasion, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced Friday. Russia’s atrocities “must not go unpunished,” he said.
  • American troops will remain in Romania, which borders Ukraine, for at least one more rotation of forces, which typically last nine months, U.S. military officials said Saturday. Members of the 10th Mountain Division headquarters will replace the Americans currently posted to Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, the officials said. The deployment will not change the current force levels in Europe, they added.

4. From our correspondents

Western Ukraine, distant from the front lines, feels the burdens of war: LVIV, Ukraine — When Alina Pidchenko, her husband, Serhii, and their three children moved to western Ukraine nine months ago, they believed they would be safe from the war.

But last Saturday, David L. Stern reports, the family once felt the effects of the conflict in the single room they share on the edge of Lviv: Russian missile strikes hit an electrical substation and a power plant, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without electricity or heating.

On Jan. 14, dozens of Russian missiles rained down across Ukraine, including in the west, where strikes severely damaged an electrical substation and a power plant in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk regions, plunging hundreds of thousands of people, including the Pidchenko family, into cold and darkness. The power and heating went out for five hours, Alina said, and then again overnight as they slept.

No corner of Ukraine is untouched by the war — not even in the far west, a mostly agricultural region, dotted with farming villages and split down the middle by the Carpathian Mountains, which was long viewed as a place of refuge.