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Western allies are stepping up consultations on whether to give modern heavy weaponry to Ukraine as Kyiv calls for urgent deliveries of tanks in the face of Russia's incessant offensive, where President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says the frontline situation remains "tough."
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with his newly appointed German counterpart, Boris Pistorius, in Berlin on January 19 a day before hosting a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at the U.S. military base in Ramstein to discuss further support -- including military aid -- for Ukraine with allies.
"Germany remains one of our most important allies.... I'd like to thank the German government for all that it has done to strengthen Ukraine's self-defense," Austin said at the start of his meeting with Pistorius.
Austin is expected to press Pistorius to allow for the transfer of German-made tanks to Ukraine, U.S. officials said.
Zelenskiy said on January 16 that he expected a "key decision on arms supplies from our partners" to result from the Ramstein meeting.
European Council President Charles Michel also arrived in Kyiv on January 19 for talks with officials. "Back in #Kyiv to discuss all strands of cooperation," he wrote on Twitter.
"Ukrainians are fighting for their land, for the future of their children. But they are also fighting for our common European values of peace and prosperity. They need and deserve our support," he wrote in an earlier message on Twitter.
Irked by the slow pace of negotiations between allies about the delivery of heavy weapons, Ukraine has been urging Western allies to speed up the delivery of tanks and air defense systems.
"We have no time, the world does not have this time," Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian president's chief of staff, wrote on Telegram.
"The question of tanks for Ukraine must be closed as soon as possible. Just like the questions of additional air defense systems," he said. "We are paying for the slowness with the lives of our Ukrainian people. It shouldn't be like that."
Ukraine's General Staff said in its daily report on January 19 that over the past 24 hours it repulsed 14 Russian attacks in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Russians mainly targeted Bilohoryvka in Luhansk as well as Bakhmut, Soledar, and Avdiyivka in neighboring Donetsk.
"At the same time, the enemy carried out 25 air strikes and launched more than 85 attacks from rocket salvo systems," the General Staff said, adding that the threat of air and missile strikes on civilian targets "remains high throughout the territory of Ukraine."
The military said that it continued to monitor Russian and Belarusian troop movements to Ukraine's border but no offensive moves were detected so far.
Kyiv has repeatedly called on Berlin to send German-manufactured Leopard 2 tanks, considered to be among the best in the world.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, speaking on January 18 to the Davos forum, said Germany will support Ukraine "for as long as necessary."
"We are continuously supplying Ukraine with large quantities of arms, in close consultation with our partners," including artillery, air-defense systems, and armored vehicles, Scholz said.
But Scholz, despite criticism not just from Kyiv but also from NATO allies and members of his own coalition, has so far held out against sending Leopard 2 tanks.
U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told AFP on January 19 that Scholz told U.S. congressmen in Davos that Germany will supply heavy tanks to Ukraine if the United States sends tanks too.
German government sources have told Reuters that Berlin wants the Americans to specifically send Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
"It's basically that it's got to be the United States and Germany. There's no question about that," Meeks told AFP.
But U.S. officials say the Abrams is not the right tank for Ukraine since it runs on turbine engines that use too much fuel for Kyiv's strained logistics system to keep them supplied at the front.
Amid the negotiations for further military aid to Ukraine, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, once seen as a reformer but since Russia's invasion of Ukraine last February has made strongly hawkish statements on the conflict, warned that Moscow's defeat could spark a nuclear war.
Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the powerful Security Council and a top ally of President Vladimir Putin, said in a post on Telegram on January 19, that Western allies should understand the risks of increasing supplying powerful military equipment to Kyiv and that the defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war "could trigger a nuclear war."
Asked about Medvedev's comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the remarks were in line with Russia's nuclear doctrine, which states that after "aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened."
Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly used high alerts and hints at a readiness to aim or use nuclear weapons since their invasion of Ukraine began.
Kyiv and Western leaders have accused Moscow of "nuclear blackmail" and "nuclear terrorism" in those statements and in Russian actions around captured Ukrainian civil nuclear facilities, including the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Europe's largest atomic energy station.
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