Live: US Defense Secretary Austin urges allies to ‘dig deeper’ for military support of Ukraine

Western defence ministers gathered at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday to hammer out future military aid to Ukraine amid ongoing dissent over who will provide the battle tanks Ukrainian leaders say they desperately need to recapture territory from Russia. European Council president Charles Michel said tanks “must be delivered” to Ukraine after he visited the war-torn country on Thursday for talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky. Follow our live blog for the latest updates. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

3:54pm: Erdogan offers to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv in call with Zelensky

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan repeated his offer to mediate between Russia and Ukraine in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday, the Turkish presidency said.

Erdogan also offered his condolences for those who died in a helicopter crash in Ukraine on Wednesday, it said.

2:52pm: UK vows to aid Ukraine bid for ‘criminal accountability’ over war

The UK on Friday vowed to help Ukraine “pursue criminal accountability for Russia’s illegal invasion”, as international support grows for a special tribunal to prosecute Russian leaders.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly branded Moscow’s renewed military assault on its neighbour, launched last February, “an outrageous violation of the rules-based international order”.

He said London had accepted an invitation from Kyiv to join “a core group of like-minded partners” seeking legal accountability, with a new “hybrid” tribunal among the potential options to be assessed.

“Alongside other international partners invited by Ukraine, the UK will shape thinking on how to ensure criminal accountability for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” his department said.

“This includes assessing the feasibility of a new ‘hybrid’ tribunal”.

2:28pm: Germany says ‘no decision yet’ on sending tanks to Ukraine

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said export authorisation for the tanks was discussed at a meeting of NATO defence leaders and allies at the Ramstein military base, but that no decision had been taken.

Pistorious said there were “good reasons” for and against sending Ukraine the tanks, which are used by several armed forces around Europe including countries that want to supply the vehicles to Kyiv.

The minister said, however, that Germany was ready to “move quickly” if there was agreement with allies about the tanks.

2:07pm: ‘Sharp’ increase in fighting in south Ukraine, says Moscow-installed official

Fighting has “sharply increased” in the southern Ukraine region of Zaporizhzhia, where the front has been largely stagnant for months, a senior Moscow-installed official there said Friday.

“In the direction of Zaporizhzhia, the intensity of military activity has sharply increased,” the official, Vladimir Rogov, said on the Telegram social media platform.

1:46pm: NATO chief Stoltenberg says Ukraine allies need to focus on ammunition, weapons maintenance

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that countries backing Ukraine needed to focus not only on sending new weapons to Kyiv, but looking at ammunition for older systems and helping maintain them.

“We need also to remember that we need to not only focus on new platforms, but also to ensure that all the platforms which are already there can function as they should,” Stoltenberg said on the sidelines of the meeting of defence ministers on arming Ukraine.

1:15pm: Macron announces major boost in military spending until 2030

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a substantial boost in defence spending through the end of this decade and a “transformation” of France’s nuclear-armed military to face evolving threats and take into account the impact of the war in Ukraine.

Macron announced a proposal for 413 billion euros in military spending for the period of 2024-2030, to ensure “our freedom, our security, our prosperity, our place in the world”. That compares with spending of about 295 billion euros in the previous 6-year budget.

The plan is meant to take into account the consequences of the war in Ukraine, and to boost defence spending in the coming years to reinforce France’s domestic security and the country’s ability to operate abroad. Macron noted threats from hybrid warfare, growing cyber attacks on critical infrastructure and continued threats from terrorism.

12:20pm: US urges allies to ‘dig deeper’ as Ramstein talks kick off

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has urged allies to step up support for Ukraine at the start of key talks at the Ramstein air base in Germany – with pressure piling up on Berlin to provide tanks to Kyiv.

“Russia is regrouping, recruiting, and trying to re-equip,” Austin said at the start of the meeting.

“This is not a moment to slow down. It’s a time to dig deeper. The Ukrainian people are watching us,” he said without making specific reference to tanks.

11:44am: First UN aid convoy reaches sites near Ukraine’s Soledar

A UN spokesperson said that a three-truck humanitarian convoy had brought aid to around 800 people close to Soledar in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on Friday.

The supplies of food, water, hygiene and medicines are the first such UN convoy to reach the area which has been subject to intense fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

Jens Laerke from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the vehicles, which departed from Dnipro, were being offloaded on Friday morning in areas controlled by the Ukrainian government, without giving an exact location

11:35am: Kremlin tells ‘deluded’ West that tanks for Ukraine will change nothing

Western countries supplying additional tanks to Ukraine will not change the course of the conflict, a spokesman for Russia’s Vladimir Putin has warned, adding that the West will regret its “delusion” that Ukraine can win on the battlefield.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Western support for Ukraine was causing “an upward spiral” in the war in Ukraine. He warned that supplying tanks to Kyiv would “change nothing” on the ground.

“We see a growing indirect and sometimes direct involvement of NATO countries in this conflict,” Peskov added. “We see a devotion to the dramatic delusion that Ukraine can succeed on the battlefield. This is a dramatic delusion of the Western community that will more than once be cause for regret – we are sure of that.”

10:30am: Macron to announce new military spending plan for France

French President Emmanuel Macron will unveil his vision for modernising the military today, taking into account the impact of the war in Ukraine and evolving threats around the world.

Macron is laying out the plan in a new year’s speech to civilian and military staff at the Mont-de-Marsan air base in southern France. He wants France’s military strategy to strengthen the country’s role as an independent global power.

The plan is expected to include higher military spending in line with NATO expectations that members spend 2% of GDP on defence.

10:02am: Ukraine thanks US for ‘powerful’ $2.5 billion defence package

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has thanked Washington for its latest package of arms and munitions for Kyiv, which comes as Western allies are set to discuss further military aid to the war-torn country.

“Thank you” US President Joe Biden for providing Ukraine “with another powerful defense support package worth $2.5 billion,” Zelensky wrote in English on Twitter.

The Ukrainian leader hailed the Stryker armoured personnel carriers, Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Avenger air defence systems included in the package as an “important help in our fight against the aggressor”.

9:03am: Finland promises $400 million euros of new military aid to Ukraine

Finland announced a new donation of 400 million euros ($434 million) worth of defence equipment for Ukraine.

The new donation would triple the total value of Finland’s defence aid to Ukraine, bringing the total so far to 590 million euros, the Defence Ministry said in a statement. A ministry spokesperson said the package does not include Leopard 2 tanks.

8:50am: European nations step up support for Kyiv as Berlin dithers over tanks

While Germany dithers over sending Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv, other European countries have stepped up their supply of weapons to Ukraine – with tiny Estonia pledging military hardware worth 1% of its entire GDP.

Reporting from Kyiv, FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg takes a look at recent pledges from Ukraine’s Western backers and brings us the latest updates on fighting in the country’s east.

8:40am: Poland ready for ‘non-standard’ action if Germany opposes tank transfer

Poland is ready to take “non-standard” action if Germany opposes sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski has told private radio RMF FM ahead of talks at the Ramstein Air Base.

Asked 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.”

Poland is among several European countries willing to send the German-made tanks to Ukraine, but Berlin has veto power over any decision to export them.

8:15am: Tens of thousands to suffer from PTSD as war takes heavy toll

Mental health professionals in Ukraine are pushing for better help for soldiers traumatised by experiences on the battlefield.

Months of trench warfare under heavy bombardment, combined with the loss of comrades, are taking a heavy toll on the men and women of the military, many of whom had little previous military experience. Tens of thousands are likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, a condition for which only a few medical establishments in Ukraine are able to offer modern treatments.

The most prominent among them, Forest Glade just outside Kyiv, launched a programme on Thursday to help share its expertise. FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg sent this report.

6:30am: Will Germany budge on Leopard tanks?

Today’s meeting at Ramstein Air Base 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.

Read more: UK offers tanks in Ukraine’s hour of need, but will Germany follow suit?

German government sources have said Berlin would move on the Leopard tanks issue if Washington agreed to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine. But Germany’s new Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said 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.

3:20am: US announces $2.5 billion in new military aid for Ukraine

The United States has announced new military assistance for Ukraine valued at up to $2.5 billion, including hundreds of armoured vehicles and support for Ukraine’s air defence.

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

Earlier, Britain announced it would send 600 Brimstone missiles, Denmark said it would donate 19 French-made Caesar howitzers, and Sweden promised its Archer artillery system, a modern mobile howitzer requested by Kyiv for months.

10:14pm: Zelensky expects ‘strong decisions’ on arms supplies

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Thursday that he expected “strong decisions” on further Western arms supplies at a key meeting of allies at the US Ramstein airbase in Germany on Friday.

“As we prepare for tomorrow’s Ramstein, we expect strong decisions. We expect a powerful military support package from the United States,” Zelensky said in a video address.

“We are, in fact, now waiting for a decision from one European capital, which will activate the prepared chains of cooperation regarding tanks,” he said, referring to German hesitations on delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

© France Médias Monde graphic studio

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