Ukraine live briefing: Germany’s tank decision coming ‘soon,’ defense minister says, as Poland pushes to send Leopards

A Ukrainian tank drives in the heavily damaged town of Siversk, Ukraine, on Saturday. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Germany will decide “soon” on whether to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine or approve the export of German-made equipment by other countries, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said, as pressure mounts on Europe’s largest economy. The German government has to sign off on any transfers of the tanks, about 2,000 of which are scattered across Europe.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Monday that Warsaw would formally submit such a request, after Berlin indicated it would not block the move. The Polish government had previously maintained that it would send the tanks with or without permission.

Kyiv has implored Western allies to send battle tanks to help boost its fighting capacity and retake territory Russia has captured in Ukraine’s south and east. Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister tweeted that the country has been asking Germany for Leopard tanks since early March. “Maybe it’s time to speed up this process?” Andrij Melnyk said. Britain recently became the first country to promise Western-produced main battle tanks to Ukraine.

In his nightly address on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not mention Leopards, but he praised the United States for agreeing to send more fighting vehicles, including Bradleys, and said Ukraine was “looking closely” at U.S. M1 Abrams tanks. Washington has declined to send the M1 Abrams tanks, despite the urging of some lawmakers, citing concerns over requisite training and maintenance.

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

Why is Germany under pressure to send tanks to Ukraine?

1. Key developments

  • Zelensky said Monday he has signed a decree that bans state officials from traveling abroad during martial law, except for on official business trips.
  • Charles McGonigal, the former head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division in the New York field office, has been indicted on charges related to improper foreign ties, including allegedly violating U.S. sanctions on Russians by trying to get billionaire Oleg Deripaska — an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — removed from the sanctions list, the U.S. Justice Department announced Monday. McGonigal’s alleged involvement with Deripaska may have affected a significant push by the Justice Department to hit wealthy Russians with economic sanctions for conducting business in the United States, an effort that accelerated last year with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, The Washington Post reports.
  • Morocco has provided Ukraine with some 20 Soviet T-72B tanks, a make that Ukraine already uses widely, the United States confirmed Monday. The move is helpful for Ukraine in that it can use the tanks immediately, without new training, said a senior U.S. military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon.
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Sweden’s bid to join NATO into question Monday after protesters near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm reportedly burned a copy of the Quran. “Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership,” Erdogan said in remarks following a cabinet meeting, Reuters reported. Turkey has pushed to extract concessions from Finland and Sweden in their push to join the alliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Russian human rights activists claim that of the estimated 50,000 fighters recruited in Russian prisons to fight in Ukraine, only 10,000 are still with the troops and the rest have either died or deserted, the independent Russian news website Meduza reported.
  • German defense group Rheinmetall, one of Europe’s biggest suppliers of armored vehicle systems, is ready to deliver 139 Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine if required, according to a spokesperson for the company, Reuters reported.

2. Battleground updates

  • The battlefield situation remained mostly static Monday, with continued shelling by Russia and Ukraine but few significant movements, a senior U.S. military official said. The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said that Ukraine continues a counteroffensive around the eastern town of Kreminna, while Russia continues to attempt to seize the city of Bakhmut. Ukrainian forces continue to hold there, the official said.
  • The governor of Lviv, Maksym Kozytskyy, said Monday on Telegram that the region is experiencing emergency power cuts after the area exceeded limits of electricity consumption. Kozytskyy did not specify how long the outages would last but said energy workers are working tirelessly to reconnect locals.
  • Evacuations have been halted in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, governor Oleksandr Starukh wrote Monday on Telegram. The halt came after Russian forces launched a missile strike on “critical infrastructure” in the region and carried out more than 20 rocket attacks, the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Sunday.

3. Global impact

  • The European Union on Monday approved more than $500 million in additional military support for Ukraine and assistance worth $48.87 million for military training of Ukrainian forces, which brings the total military support offered so far to $3.9 billion, E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is in South Africa, where he met with the country’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, on Monday. Protesters stood outside the government ministry in Pretoria holding signs that read “war criminal,” Reuters reported. South Africa says it is neutral amid the conflict in Ukraine. However, the country’s main opposition party has accused the government of siding with Moscow after it was announced that Russia and China would begin naval drills off the coast of South Africa next month, the Associated Press reported. Pandor defended the exercises on Monday as a matter in the “natural course of relations,” Reuters reported.
  • Russia expelled the Estonian ambassador to Moscow after Estonia decreased the size of the Russian Embassy in its capital, Tallinn, a move interpreted by Moscow as anti-Russian. Margus Laidre must leave by Feb. 7, Russia’s Foreign Ministry wrote on its official Telegram channel Monday, blaming Estonia for the breakdown in relations. In solidarity with Estonia, Latvia will downgrade its diplomatic ties with Russia, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said Monday on Twitter.

4. From our correspondents

Is apocalypse near? How the Doomsday Clock tracks nuclear, climate threats: The Doomsday Clock is not an actual clock but a symbol designed by scientists that serves as a metaphor for how close we are to destroying our world. For more than seven decades, the clock has been used to convey the level of risk from existential threats, from nuclear weapons to climate change, Ellen Francis writes.

The world has been 100 seconds away from “midnight” — the symbolic hour of apocalypse — since 2020. Tuesday will be the first update since Russia’s war in Ukraine revived fears of a nuclear disaster in a year of fires and floods around the world.

Devlin Barrett, Spencer S. Hsu, Shayna Jacobs, Loveday Morris, Claire Parker and Emily Rauhala contributed to this report.