Briefing: Germany won’t object if Poland sends tanks to Ukraine, foreign minister says

REUTERS/Benjamin Westhoff/File
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speaks to a conference of her Greens party in Bonn, Germany, October 15, 2022.

The German government won’t oppose Poland sending German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, if Warsaw makes such a request, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told French TV channel LCI on Sunday.

Her remarks came as pressure mounted on Germany over its reluctance to send its own tanks or approve the export of German-made tanks from other nations, which prompted backlash from Western allies that say it’s urgent to get them to Ukraine to bolster its fighting capacity this year.

The Polish government has condemned Berlin’s hesitancy as “unacceptable” and said it stands ready to send some of its own, though it requires Germany’s legal authorization before doing so.

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

1. Key developments

– President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was confident Ukraine would win its war against Russia in 2023, as long as it continues to be “united and strong” and receives the military and financial support needed from key allies like the United States and European leaders, he told students at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv on Sunday. Zelensky said the speed of victory depends on “the help of partners,” and added “we must not allow the processes to slow down either outside or inside, as it will prolong the war.”

– Former British prime minister Boris Johnson visited two war-torn cities outside of Kyiv: Bucha and Borodyanka this weekend. Johnson, who is popular among Ukrainians for the support he gave the country when he was in office, met with Zelensky at the Taras Shevchenko National University and said Ukraine’s allies should provide the country with “all the necessary weapons as soon as possible.”

– Zelensky said Ukraine needs support to protect the nation’s energy infrastructure to avoid the blackout that Russia is aiming to cause with targeted attacks on power stations across the country. “And we have to make sure that people stay in the cities, because this is about jobs, about taxes,” he said. “We have to protect them economically to make sure that the businesses are operating,” he said in an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that aired Sunday.

– Representatives from France and Germany were meeting in Paris on Sunday for talks on Europe’s security and energy. The meeting is the first in-person meeting between the two governments since 2019. Lawmakers were also expected to discuss military support for Ukraine, the Associated Press reported, citing French and German officials.

– New German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius will travel to Ukraine soon, he said in an interview with the German newspaper Bild, probably within the next month. Asked when a decision on Leopard tanks will be made, he said only that Germany is in close dialogue with its international partners about it.

2. Battleground updates

– Russian forces launched a missile strike on “critical infrastructure” in Ukraine’s southeastern Zaporizhzhia region and carried out more than 20 attacks from rocket launcher systems, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Sunday.

– The Russian Defense Ministry also reported making advances in the Zaporizhzhia region and continued offensive operations around the city of Bakhmut in Donbas, as a chorus of Western allies urged Germany to approve the delivery of battle tanks that Kyiv says are crucial to fighting entrenched Russian forces.

– Russia is planning to expand its armed forces over the next several years – but will probably “struggle to staff and equip the planned expansion,” the British Defense Ministry said Sunday. The ministry’s warning comes after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced plans for the military expansion last week, saying that Moscow wants to increase troops to about 1.5 million.

– Russia’s Wagner Group is becoming “a rival power center” to the Russian military, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing Friday. Wagner Group founder Yevgeniy Prigozhin “is trying to advance his own interests in Ukraine, and Wagner is making military decisions based largely – largely – on what they will generate for Prigozhin, in terms of positive publicity,” Kirby said. He added that the mercenary group will face sanctions this week, after the U.S. Treasury Department designates Wagner a “transnational criminal organization.”

– Russian troops shelled the town of Oleshky in the southern Kherson region – which has been largely retaken by Ukraine in November after months of Russian occupation, and continues to endure heavy artillery – damaging a school and shattering windows of nearby buildings according to mayor Yevhen Ryshchuk. No casualties were reported.

3. Global impact

– Turkey canceled a planned visit from Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson this week, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar announced Saturday. The two were supposed to discuss Sweden’s bid to join NATO, which Turkey needs to sign off on. The decision to cancel the meeting was related to Sweden granting permission for a far-right protest where a copy of the Quran was burned, Akar said.

– Facebook parent company Meta is tweaking its content moderation strategy for the war in Ukraine, removing the Azov Regiment from its list of dangerous individuals and organizations. The company’s Oversight Board, an independent collection of academics, activists and experts, has argued that Meta has gone too far in squashing content that criticizes authoritarian governments or leaders.

– U.S. troops will stay in Romania, which borders Ukraine, for at least one more rotation of forces, which typically lasts nine months, U.S. military officials said Saturday. Members of the 10th Mountain Division headquarters will replace the Americans posted to Mihail Kogalniceanu air base, the officials said. The deployment will not change current troop levels in Europe, they added.

– Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told CNN the Biden administration should not “slow-walk” weapons when it comes to sending tanks to Ukraine and should “give them what they need” for them to win the war.

4. From our correspondents

The U.S. imports uranium from Russia. What if sanctions end that? News that Russian state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom is suspected of supplying the Russian arms industry has elevated prospects that the United States and Western allies might place sanctions on the company, which exports uranium for nuclear reactors.

The United States bought 14 percent of its uranium in 2021 from Russia, but any action against Rosatom shouldn’t result in significantly higher electricity costs because American utilities have already started seeking more uranium supplies. Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, said that, “at worst, some long-term Russian supply contracts could not be executed, and that would perhaps raise the price of electricity 1 or 2 percent.”

He added: “Given that we’re spending $100 billion plus to help Ukraine out, it would be a rounding error.”