Zelenskiy expecting ‘strong decisions’ as Kyiv’s allies meet in Germany

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said his government is expecting “strong decisions” from defence leaders of Nato and other countries meeting on Friday to discuss boosting Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian forces with modern battle tanks.

The meeting at Ramstein airbase in Germany is the latest in a series since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly 11 months ago, and where future weapons supplies will be discussed, particularly of Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks used by armies across Europe.

Berlin has veto power over any decision to export the tanks and Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has appeared reluctant so far to authorise that for fear of provoking Russia.

Some allies say Berlin’s concern is misplaced, with Russia already fully committed to war, while Moscow has repeatedly said western weapons transfers would prolong the conflict and increase suffering in Ukraine.

“We are, in fact, now waiting for a decision from one European capital, which will activate the prepared chains of cooperation regarding tanks,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Thursday night.

“We are preparing for the Ramstein meeting tomorrow. We are expecting strong decisions. We are expecting a powerful military aid package from the United States,” he said.

Key events

Maksym Kozytskyi, governor of Lviv in western Ukraine has posted to Telegram to say that yesterday there was one air alert in the region after Mig-31 and A-50 aircraft took off from Belarus, but “the danger did not materialize, everything is calm in our region.”

Kozytskyi reports that on Thursday “107 forcibly displaced persons arrived in our region by two evacuation trains.”

The UK’s Ministry of Defence has produced its latest intelligence briefing on what it sees as the situation in Ukraine. Today it is focused on the Wagner mercenary group. It says, among other things, that it “almost certainly now commands up to 50,000 fighters in Ukraine and has become a key component of the Ukraine campaign”.

The ministry describes Wagner as having experienced a “remarkably rapid development” in its public profile, stating that Yevgeny Prigozhin “only admitted to founding Wagner in September 2022; in October 2022, it opened a glossy HQ in St Petersburg.”

Pavlo Kyrylenko, Ukraine’s governor of Donetsk, one of the occupied areas of the country which the Russian Federation claims to have annexed, has posted to Telegram to give civilian casualty figures from yesterday. He writes:

On 19 January, the Russians killed four civilians of Donetsk region: three more people in the region were injured. Currently, it is impossible to establish the exact number of victims in [the regions of] Mariupol and Volnovakha. Every war criminal will be punished!

Ukrainian soldiers with a mortar on the Donbas frontline in Donetsk oblast yesterday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • This is Martin Belam taking over the live blog in London. You can contact me on martin.belam@theguardian.com, and I will be here for the next few hours.

Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Paweł Jablonski, says the country is ready to take non-standard’ action if Germany opposes sending leopard tanks to Ukraine, Reuters reports.

Asked on private radio station RMF FM whether sending tanks to Ukraine would be possible even with Germany opposition, Jablonski said, “I think that if there is strong resistance, we will be ready to take even such non-standard action … but let’s not anticipate the facts.”

Jablonski was reiterating a statement by Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, who signalled on Thursday that it could send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as part of a wider coalition even without Germany’s approval.

“Consent is of secondary importance here, we will either obtain this consent quickly, or we will do what is needed ourselves,” Morawiecki said.

The US arms package did not include the ATA long-range missiles that Ukraine has requested, according to AFP.

The missiles, which travel up to 300km (180 miles), could enable Ukraine to strike Russian supply routes and depots far behind the frontlines that are not reachable with current Himars rocket systems.

But western partners also 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.

The Kremlin warned against escalating the conflict to a “whole new level” if the west meets Ukraine’s latest calls for longer-range weapons.

The US on Thursday announced fresh military assistance for Ukraine valued at up to $2.5bn, including hundreds of armoured vehicles and support for Ukraine’s air defence, Reuters reports.

The aid includes 59 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 90 Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers, the US Defense Department said in a statement. In total, the US has committed more than $27.4bn in security aid to Ukraine since the invasion began.

German government sources have said Berlin would move on the Leopard tanks issue if Washington agreed to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Abrams tanks were not included in Thursday’s announcement by the US.

Germany’s new defence minister, Boris Pistorius, said earlier, however, that he did not know of any requirement that Ukraine receive US and German tanks simultaneously.

“I’m not aware of any such stipulation,” Pistorius told German ARD television when asked if that meant Abrams and Leopards had to be delivered at the same time, a position that leaves open the possibility of an agreement on Friday.

Zelenskiy expecting ‘strong decisions’ as Kyiv’s allies meet in Germany

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said his government is expecting “strong decisions” from defence leaders of Nato and other countries meeting on Friday to discuss boosting Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian forces with modern battle tanks.

The meeting at Ramstein airbase in Germany is the latest in a series since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly 11 months ago, and where future weapons supplies will be discussed, particularly of Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks used by armies across Europe.

Berlin has veto power over any decision to export the tanks and Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has appeared reluctant so far to authorise that for fear of provoking Russia.

Some allies say Berlin’s concern is misplaced, with Russia already fully committed to war, while Moscow has repeatedly said western weapons transfers would prolong the conflict and increase suffering in Ukraine.

“We are, in fact, now waiting for a decision from one European capital, which will activate the prepared chains of cooperation regarding tanks,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on Thursday night.

“We are preparing for the Ramstein meeting tomorrow. We are expecting strong decisions. We are expecting a powerful military aid package from the United States,” he said.

Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine. My name is Helen Sullivan and I’ll be bringing you the latest for the next while.

Our top story this morning: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said his government was expecting “strong decisions” from defence leaders of Nato and other countries meeting on Friday to discuss boosting Ukraine’s ability to confront Russian forces with modern battle tanks.

Here are the other key recent developments:

  • A group of 11 Nato countries have pledged a raft of new military aid for Ukraine, ahead of a crunch meeting on arms for Kyiv in Germany on Friday. The aid from countries including Britain, Estonia, Latvia and Poland will include tens of stinger air defence systems, S-60 anti-aircraft guns, machine guns and training, according to a statement.

  • The US has announced $2.5bn in new weaponry and munitions for Ukraine. The package includes 90 Stryker armoured personnel carriers, an additional 59 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, Avenger air defence systems, and large and small munitions, according to a Pentagon statement.

  • CIA director William Burns recently traveled in secret to Ukraine’s capital to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a US official told Reuters on Thursday. “Director Burns traveled to Kyiv, where he met with Ukrainian intelligence counterparts as well as President Zelenskiy and reinforced our continued support for Ukraine and its defense against Russian aggression,” the US official, who declined to be identified or say when the visit took place.

  • Britain plans to send 600 Brimstone missiles to Ukraine to support the country in its fight against Russia, defence minister Ben Wallace announced. Speaking at a meeting with other defence ministers at the Tapa army base in Estonia, Wallace outlined a previously announced package of military support for Ukraine, including sending Challenger tanks. “We’re in it for the long haul,” he said.

  • Sweden’s government announced a new package of military aid to Ukraine that will include armoured infantry fighting vehicles and the Archer artillery system. Poland said it was sending S-60 anti-aircraft guns with 70,000 rounds of ammunition and was ready to donate a company of German-made Leopard 2 tanks, “pending (a) wider coalition” of Leopard donors.

  • Lithuania’s defence minister, Arvydas Anušauskas, has said several countries will announce sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine at Friday’s meeting of defence ministers at the Ramstein airbase in Germany. The total number of armoured vehicles pledged at tomorrow’s meeting would go into hundreds, Anušauskas told Reuters.

  • Estonia’s defence minister, Hanno Pevkur, announced his country will send military equipment to Ukraine worth €113m in its latest package of support.

  • Denmark announced it will donate 19 French-made Caesar howitzer artillery systems to Kyiv.

  • The US and German defence ministers met on Thursday as Berlin faces pressure to allow the transfer of German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine. The meeting between Lloyd Austin and Boris Pistorius came as a German government source told Reuters that Berlin would allow Leopard tanks to be sent to Ukraine to help its defence against Russia if the US agreed to send its own tanks.

  • A German government spokesperson has said it has yet to receive a request from any country for permission to re-export German-made tanks to Ukraine. Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has signalled that it could send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as part of a wider coalition even without Germany’s approval. “Consent is of secondary importance here, we will either obtain this consent quickly, or we will do what is needed ourselves,” Morawiecki said.

  • The Kremlin has said Russia will achieve its goals in Ukraine “one way or another” and the sooner Kyiv accepts its demands, the sooner the conflict will end. The Kremlin has repeatedly said Russia is ready to halt military operations if Ukraine meets its demands, but Moscow has not publicly outlined details of its negotiating position or what it is seeking from Kyiv in order to end hostilities.

  • The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, says he worries the world is becoming complacent about the dangers posed by the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Grossi, speaking to reporters in Kyiv, said a nuclear accident could happen any day and reiterated the situation at the plant was very precarious.

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