1 of 3 | U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin Friday told the more than 50-nation Ukraine Defense Contact Group it's time to "dig deeper" to increase military support for Ukraine. Photo by Ronald Wittek/EPA-EFE
Jan. 20 (UPI) -- A meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact group of 54 nations Friday failed to produce a deal to fulfill President Volodymyr Zelensky's demand for more tanks.
In a press briefing from the Ramstein Air Base, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he did not have "any announcements to make" regarding the United States providing M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine and added no progress had been made toward obtaining German approval to ship Leopard 2 tanks to the front lines.
Zelensky had called on the nations to urgently send tanks because Russia is preparing another major offensive.
"I can thank you hundreds of times and it will be absolutely just and fair, given all that we have already done -- but hundreds of 'thank you' are not hundreds of tanks," Zelensky said in his speech to the Ramstein meeting. "I cannot put words instead of guns that are needed against Russian artillery, or instead of the anti-aircraft missiles that are needed to protect people from Russian airstrikes."
So far only Britain is sending heavy tanks to Ukraine. Poland has said it is ready to donate a company of Leopard 2 tanks but needs Germany's permission.
During his opening remarks earlier in the day, Austin urged allies to "dig deeper" in their efforts to support Ukraine, echoing Zelensky's warning by noting that "Russia is regrouping, recruiting and trying to re-equip."
"The Ukrainian people are watching us. The Kremlin is watching us. And history is watching us. So we won't let up. And we won't waver in our determination to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia's imperial aggression," he said.
Despite the lack of a deal on German tanks, Austin said he was confident Ukraine's allies will stay united and support Ukraine in this "decisive moment."
"Today's meeting focused on Ukraine's need for air defense and armor. We pushed hard on how to synchronize those capabilities," he said.
Austin said several countries have made key donations to help protect Ukraine's skies. France, Germany and Britain have provided air defense, while the Netherlands is donating a Patriot missile air defense system and training and Canada has procured a NASAM air defense system for Ukraine.
"I'm confident that Ukraine's partners around the globe are committed to continuing this effort," Austin said.
U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said NATO and the Ukraine Defense Contact Group are committed to supporting Ukraine with capabilities with "as much as it takes for as long as it takes to keep Ukraine free and sovereign."
On Thursday, the United States announced $2.5 billion more in a military package for Ukraine that includes hundreds of armored vehicles.
Austin told the Ramstein meeting that the latest U.S. military support for Ukraine brings total military assistance to more than $26.7 billion since Russia's unprovoked invasion last February.
"Our new package provides even more air-defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its cities and its skies. And that includes NASAMS munitions and eight Avenger air-defense systems," Austin said. "This new assistance package also helps meet Ukraine's urgent need for armor and combat vehicles. So we're providing 59 more Bradleys, 90 Strykers, 53 MRAPs and 350 up-armored Humvees. And this new package will also provide thousands more rounds of artillery."
On Thursday, Britain, Estonia, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Slovakia announced more military aid that includes tanks from Britain and other weapons.
"The new level of required combat power is only achieved by combinations of main battle tank squadrons, beneath air and missile defense, operating alongside divisional artillery groups, and further deep precision fires enabling targeting of Russian logistics and command nodes in occupied territory," those nations said in a joint statement.
Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Western nations will "regret" military support for Ukraine.
"We see a growing indirect and sometimes direct involvement of NATO countries in this conflict ... We see a devotion to the dramatic delusion that Ukraine can succeed on the battlefield," Peskov said. "This is a dramatic delusion of the Western community that will more than once be cause for regret, we are sure of that."