BERLIN — Western defense officials on Friday failed to reach an agreement on exporting German- or American-made battle tanks to Ukraine, setting back Ukraine’s hopes of quickly getting weapons it sees as crucial to its defense against an expected new Russian offensive.
At the end of more than five hours of talks at the U.S.-led meeting of Ukraine’s allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, told reporters that Germany had not yet decided whether to allow its Leopard 2 tanks to be sent to Ukraine. Washington has been reluctant to send its own M1 Abrams tanks, and Mr. Austin added that he had no announcement on whether that stance would change.
Kyiv has been pleading for hundreds of modern Western battle tanks to reinforce its battered fleet of Soviet-era armor. Britain recently agreed to send a small number of its Challenger 2 tanks, in part, it said, to encourage other countries to overcome their months of resistance to donating tanks.
Ukrainian officials had been hopeful that a new deal would be announced on Friday to send Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank to the battlefield, or at least to allow other countries with those German-made tanks to send them to Ukraine.
But German and American officials negotiated on the matter for days, without success. And the broader circle of 54 countries were unable to devise a plan for other countries to send their own Leopard 2’s, which would require Germany’s approval.
American and German officials made a point to dismiss any suggestion of acrimony in the impasse, emphasizing they could still someday send tanks and that they had agreed on other efforts to help Ukraine. Mr. Austin maintained that the meeting’s attendees were “pushing hard” to meet Ukraine’s needs for tanks and armored vehicles, and his German counterpart, Boris Pistorius, said Germany would offer training on its Leopard tanks and begin an inventory of its tanks, in case of a future deal.
In recent weeks, the West has broken one taboo after another, agreeing to send Patriot missile systems and armored fighting vehicles, despite earlier fears that Russia would see the provision of those weapons as a provocation. But tanks are more powerful battlefield weapons, and likelier to be seen as an escalation.
With concerns growing over an anticipated Russian offensive in the spring or earlier, Britain and other countries pushed for the tanks, with several publicly prodding Germany to make a move.
Pentagon officials have argued that it makes little sense to send the Abrams tanks to Ukraine at this time, because they run on jet fuel rather than diesel and are hard to maintain. U.S. officials are also concerned that Russia might view them as a sign of U.S. escalation, which could undercut the Biden administration’s efforts to avoid a broader conflict.
For its part, Germany has been reluctant to send in some of its Leopard 2 tanks without Washington’s pledging to send at least a token number of its Abrams tanks.
The absence of an agreement was a setback for Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, had explicitly appealed to those gathered to send tanks.
“Hundreds of thank-yous are not hundreds of tanks,” he told the gathering via live video earlier on Friday, speaking in English. “All of us can use thousands of words in discussions, but I cannot use words instead of guns.”
He stressed the urgency of Ukraine’s need. “Time,” he said, “remains a Russian weapon.”
Although allies in Europe had been piling pressure on Germany to allow other nations to re-export their own Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Germany’s new defense minister, Boris Pistorius, suggested that some countries might be more worried about provoking Russia than they were letting on.
“There is no unified consensus,” he told reporters. “The impression that has occasionally been created that there is a united coalition and that Germany is standing in the way is wrong.”
Poland, which has been especially vocal on the need to send more powerful weapons, and Finland say they will supply their Leopard tanks if Germany approves.
“Arming Ukraine in order to repel the Russian aggression is not some kind of decision-making exercise,” Poland’s foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, wrote on Twitter on Friday, in reaction to the absence of an agreement. “Ukrainian blood is shed for real. This is the price of hesitation over Leopard deliveries. We need action, now.”
The foreign ministers of Poland and Latvia, which both support sending tanks to Ukraine, denounced the failure of that country’s allies to reach an agreement on Friday that would allow them to do so.
The lack of an agreement means that European nations, like Poland, that have pledged to send their German-made Leopard 2 tanks must continue to wait for Berlin’s permission. German officials have been reluctant to agree without a commitment from the U.S. to send its own M1 Abrams tanks, and American officials made no announcement on Friday about whether they would do so.
“Arming Ukraine in order to repel the Russian aggression is not some kind of decision-making exercise,” Poland’s foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, said on Twitter. “Ukrainian blood is shed for real. This is the price of hesitation over Leopard deliveries.”
Poland threatened last week to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine without the required permission from Berlin if an agreement were not reached. After the failure of the talks among more than 50 defense ministers at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday, the Polish defense minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, expressed hope that a deal could still be brokered.
The foreign minister of Latvia, which has also been advocating for Ukraine to receive Western-made tanks, said after the Ramstein meeting that while military assistance to Kyiv was growing, it was not enough. “Leopard tanks must be provided to Ukraine now!” the minister, Edgars Rinkevics, said on Twitter.
A host of Ukraine’s allies have made fresh commitments to sending more military aid in recent days, and the immediate reaction from Kyiv on Friday to the lack of a tank deal appeared muted.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier on Friday told Western defense officials that “hundreds of thank-yous are not hundreds of tanks,” said in his nightly address that support for Ukraine remained firm, but emphasized that rapid delivery time of the tanks was crucial.
“Yes, we will still have to fight for the supply of modern tanks,” Mr. Zelensky said, “but every day we make it more obvious there is no alternative.”
Andriy Yermak, the head of Mr. Zelensky’s office, said on Telegram that Ukraine was “getting stronger” and that “everything that we haven’t received yet, we will receive.”
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, shared a collage of photos of the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, appearing stressed. The solution, Mr. Gerashchenko added, was to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
A group of Ukrainian expatriates and supporters in Berlin protested Mr. Scholz’s resistance on Friday, carrying signs declaring “Free the Leopards!” and commemorating victims of Russia’s war in front of the chancellery building.
🇺🇦 The protest #FreeTheLeopards is taking place right now in front of the 🇩🇪 German chancellery, organised by Ukrainians from @VitscheBerlin and their supporters.— Emmanuelle Chaze (@EmmanuelleChaze) January 20, 2023
They chant "Leopard delivery for Ukraine!" and call on Scholz to change his stance on the needed combat tanks. pic.twitter.com/eQY9GMrPPY
Germany’s Nazi past has led to the country’s longstanding reluctance to take leadership on military issues. Concerned about being perceived as escalating the war, Mr. Scholz had insisted that his country would not be the first NATO ally to send tanks into Ukraine. But last week, Britain pledged to send Challenger 2 tanks, adding to the pressure on Mr. Scholz to relent.
The German defense minister, Boris Pistorius, defended his country’s stance on Friday, telling reporters there that Kyiv’s Western allies were not unified on the issue.
“The impression that has occasionally been created that there is a united coalition and that Germany is standing in the way is wrong,” Mr. Pistorius said.
The State of the War
- In the East: Russian forces are wrestling for control of villages near the beleaguered city of Bakhmut, which has become a flashpoint in a battle that Moscow views as crucial for its push to seize the Donbas region.
- In Kharkiv: Residents have slowly trickled back into Ukraine’s second-largest city after Ukrainian forces expelled the Russian military. But signs of the war — and the chance that it might return — are everywhere.
- Military Aid: After weeks of tense negotiations, Germany and the United States announced they would send battle tanks to Ukraine. But the tanks won’t be the silver bullet that allows Kyiv to win the war.
- Corruption Scandal: Amid allegations of government corruption, several top Ukrainian officials were fired. The ouster has renewed questions about how Ukraine’s leaders are addressing concerns over aid.
A former U.S. Navy SEAL who deserted in 2019 was killed in Ukraine this week, the Navy said in a brief statement on Friday.
The SEAL, Daniel W. Swift, died on Wednesday, the Navy said, making him the latest American to be killed in Ukraine, where hundreds of international volunteers have gone to fight in Ukraine’s defense.
Mr. Swift’s death was first reported by Time, which said he had been fighting with Ukrainian forces. The Navy said he had gone absent without leave and had been listed as an “active deserter” since March 11, 2019.
The U.S. State Department confirmed a “recent death of a U.S. citizen fighting in Ukraine” without naming Mr. Swift, and said it was providing consular assistance to the family.
Navy records show that Mr. Swift was from Oregon and enlisted in 2005. He was a special warfare operator first class and held among his commendations a Legion of Merit award, as well as campaign medals for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Navy SEALS, like other elite commando units, are highly trained and conduct some of the military’s most dangerous and secretive missions.
The top general in the United States said on Friday that it would be “very, very difficult” for Ukraine to oust Russian forces from its territory this year, increasing the likelihood that any quick resolution to the conflict would come through negotiations rather than on the battlefield.
“For this year, it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters after a meeting of Ukraine’s allies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. “That doesn’t mean it can’t happen, doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it would be very, very difficult.”
A more likely scenario, General Milley said, is that Ukraine will stabilize the front lines as it integrates the military assistance promised this week by many Western nations.
Although Western defense officials at Ramstein on Friday could not agree on giving German- or American-made battle tanks to Ukraine, the country’s allies pledged to provide a large amount of heavy weaponry to help Ukraine defend itself against an expected spring offensive by Russia.
Britain pledged to send 14 of its Challenger 2 tank. The Pentagon said it would send 90 Stryker armored fighting vehicles and 50 Bradley fighting vehicles, among other weapons, as part of a $2.5 billion military aid package.
General Milley said the Ukrainian forces were receiving enough equipment from the West to push the Russians back along a curving front line that extends for hundreds of miles from Kharkiv in the north to Kherson in the south.
“Depending on the delivery and training of all of this equipment, I do think it’s very, very possible for the Ukrainians to run a significant tactical- or even operational-level offensive operation to liberate as much Ukrainian territory as possible,” General Milley said. “And then we’ll see where it goes.”
Video footage released by Russian state media that purports to show Serbian mercenaries training for battle alongside Moscow’s troops in Ukraine has outraged authorities in Serbia, which has spent years trying to join the European Union and shed its reputation as a Kremlin supporter.
President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia has been long caught among competing forces — his country’s historical ties to Russia, his own past links to violent Serb nationalism and his ambitions to join the E.U.
But this week he denounced what he said was an unwelcome campaign to recruit Serbian volunteers by the Wagner private military company, a mercenary force run by a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“Why do you from Wagner call anyone from Serbia when you know that it is against our regulations?” Mr. Vucic asked earlier this week on Happy, a Serbian television channel. Serbian law, he said, prohibits Serbs from fighting in Ukrainian territory. Mr. Vucic denied that Wagner recruiters were in Serbia.
Wagner, which has fronted Russia’s monthslong offensive to seize the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, has released videos in Serbian and has posted online messages in a campaign for Serb recruits, Serbian media reported. Wagner, run by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman known as “Putin’s cook” because of his catering contracts with the Kremlin and Russian military, earlier recruited convicts from Russian prisons.
Footage broadcast by the Russian state news agency RIA showed masked men who identified themselves as Serbian volunteers on a weapons training course in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region.
Russian nationalist groups sent volunteer fighters to help Serbia during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s after the collapse of Yugoslavia. But relations between Moscow and Belgrade have often been tense, characterized by declarations of eternal Pan-Slavic solidarity and frequent complaints of betrayal.
The European Union has reacted to Russia’s invasion by imposing economic sanctions against Moscow, but Serbia has declined to join. Also, Serbia’s national airline, Air Serbia, offers Europe’s only direct flights to Moscow. Mr. Vucic, in an interview with The Times last year, said he was ready to align Serbia with Europe over Ukraine but only if his country’s stalled 14-year-old application to join the E.U. gained traction.
In a sign that he might be serious about ditching Russia in favor of the West, Mr. Vucic last year dropped Aleksandar Vulin, a hawkish nationalist with close ties to Russia’s security apparatus, as Serbia’s interior minister. Instead, Mr. Vulin, a longtime ally but also a potential rival to Mr. Vucic, was selected as head of Serbia’s powerful intelligence service.
The United States has decided to designate the Russian private military group Wagner as a significant transnational criminal organization, the White House said on Friday, a move that will expand the number of nations and institutions that can be prevented from doing business with the company.
“Our message to any company that is considering providing support to Wagner is simply this: Wagner is a criminal organization that is committing widespread human rights abuses,” John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, told reporters at a news briefing.
The new measures against the company, which is already under U.S. sanctions, will take effect next week. Designating Wagner as a transnational criminal organization will allow the government to freeze any assets the company may have in the United States, if any, and ban Americans from providing money, goods or services to the group.
Mr. Kirby said North Korea had provided arms for Russia’s military operation through Wagner, delivering rockets and missiles for use by the group’s mercenaries last year.
Mr. Kirby said that Wagner, a mercenary force run by a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, has established itself as a “rival power center” to the Russian military, and added that the group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has overseen the deployment of some 50,000 personnel to Ukraine, a number that largely comprises contractors and newly released convicts.
Wagner’s mercenaries have played a large role in the battle for eastern Ukraine and have also carried out military operations in Africa.
“Russia is searching for arms in foreign countries, including through Wagner,” Mr. Kirby said.
North Korea has denied it is arming Wagner or Russian forces, but Mr. Kirby said the United States has evidence. He produced aerial images that he said showed a Russian train entering North Korea on Nov. 19 and then leaving fully loaded with shipping containers.
Mr. Kirby said the amount of material delivered to Wagner has not changed battlefield dynamics in Ukraine but that the United States expects the company will continue to receive North Korean weapons.
He said that American officials had referred the photos to the United Nations Security Council and that he expects additional sanctions to be placed against the company after the panel reviews evidence that United Nations resolutions were violated.
“While we assess that the amount of material delivered to Wagner has not changed battlefield dynamics in Ukraine,” Mr. Kirby said, “we expect that it will continue to receive North Korean weapons systems.”
Germany on Wednesday ended weeks of speculation by saying it would send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and also allow other countries to send their own.
Here is a brief look at the Leopard 2 tanks and how they could be valuable to Ukraine.
What is a Leopard 2 tank?
The Leopard 2 is one of the world’s leading battle tanks, used by the German Army for decades and by the militaries of more than a dozen other European nations, as well as by the armies of countries as far apart as Canada and Indonesia. It has seen service in conflicts in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Syria.
The tank, which is powered by a diesel engine, features night-vision equipment and a laser range finder that can measure distance to an object, enabling it to better aim at a moving target while traveling over rough terrain. There are multiple iterations of the Leopard 2 with different features and designs.
How could the tank help Ukraine?
Until now, both Ukraine and Russia have used Soviet-era tanks in battle, and the Leopards would offer a big step forward in capability. Ukraine’s government has been calling for tanks on top of earlier packages of military aid from allies in the United States and Europe that included aircraft, air defense systems to protect against Russian missile and drone attacks and longer-range artillery.
Supplies of the Leopard 2 would help offset Russia’s superiority in artillery firepower, which aided Moscow in seizing two cities in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk Province over the summer. They could be of particular value as the war approaches its second year and Ukraine looks to reclaim lost territory and expects a Russian spring offensive.
What are the advantages of Leopards over other tanks?
Britain has promised to supply Ukraine with 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks, and U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the White House would announce as early as Wednesday that it would send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The American-made M1 Abrams tanks require constant upkeep and generally run on special fuel.
Military experts said that the chief advantage of the Leopard 2 was the quantity that could be sent to Ukraine and the relative ease of repair and logistics.
“The Leopards are in Europe, they are easy to get to Ukraine and several European countries use them, so they are readily available,” said Minna Alander, a research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. “Logistics and maintenance would be easier. Spare parts and know-how are here in Europe, so the training of Ukrainians would be easier.”
In addition, because several European countries use the vehicles, multiple nations could contribute either the tanks themselves, or spare parts, training capacity or logistics, said Ms. Alander, an expert in northern European security and German foreign policy.
Why does Germany have to approve the transfer of Leopards owned by other countries?
According to German officials, re-exporting German-made tanks without Berlin’s permission would be illegal.
The contracts that a country signs to obtain weapons from German manufacturers or German military stocks requires them to request a re-export license from the federal government should they wish to send such weapons to another country. (The United States has similar requirements, as do other countries, like Switzerland.)
What are the potential pitfalls?
Ukraine’s leaders and military experts in the United States and elsewhere have said in recent weeks that Russia appears to be preparing for an offensive in the late winter or early spring. It is not clear that the supply of Western tanks, including the Leopard 2, would arrive at the battle front quickly enough to confront that threat.
“Ukraine needs them as soon as possible, and everything points to Russia preparing for a bigger offensive in the spring, so the clock is really ticking,” Ms. Alander said.
Even if the Ukrainians get trained quickly, that could still take months, and there are still questions about how many tanks could be provided and at what level they could be maintained.
Erika Solomon and John Ismay contributed reporting.
As Western defense officials met in Germany on Friday to coordinate sending more weapons to Ukraine, Russian forces continued to strike civilian areas in the eastern part of country where recent fighting has been at its fiercest.
A Russian missile landed just outside a kindergarten in the eastern city of Kramatorsk on Friday, the head of the regional Ukrainian military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said in a statement. He posted images of the strike, showing a building with blown-out windows and a large crater in front of a children’s playground set, on the Telegram messaging app. No casualties were immediately reported, though Mr. Kyrylenko said separately that four people had been killed in the region over the course of the previous day.
While fighting in many areas of Ukraine has been largely at a stalemate — notwithstanding waves of Russian missile and drone attacks on energy infrastructure — the battle in the country’s east has raged.
The city of Bakhmut has become a focal point of Russia’s efforts to capture the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, and the campaign to seize it has come at an enormous cost in casualties. There are indications that Russia has advanced to the north in Soledar — a small salt-mining town that Moscow claims is in Russia hands despite Ukraine’s insistence that fighting is ongoing — and potentially taken the village of Klishchiivka to the south, suggesting that Ukraine’s ability to maintain its hold of Bakhmut is increasingly tenuous.
The head of Russia’s Wagner private military company claimed on Thursday that its fighters had seized Klishchiivka. On Friday, Russia’s defense ministry also said in a statement that the village had been captured, though there has been no confirmation from Ukrainian officials and the claims have been impossible to independently verify.
Ukrainian forces had deemed Klishchiivka key to the defense of Bakhmut, because the village lies on high ground directly east of roads into the city that are heavily used by the Ukrainian military.
While fighting in and around Bakhmut continued, the United Nations said on Friday that a humanitarian convoy had reached areas near Soledar. The organization’s humanitarian agency said that a three-truck convoy with food, water and medicine was “close” to Soledar and offering support to more than 800 people who had remained in the area.
Recent fighting in and around #Soledar has caused widespread destruction, leaving people who remain there in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Today, our humanitarian colleagues are bringing people in the surrounding areas some vital support. https://t.co/wTGQbBcJHY pic.twitter.com/vh5sYzNL9s— Saviano Abreu (@savianoabreu) January 20, 2023
Canada is sending 200 personnel carriers. Britain will donate 600 missiles. Sweden is giving artillery systems and armored vehicles. And in one of its single largest security commitments since the start of the war, the United States said on Thursday that it would ship about 100 additional fighting vehicles to help Ukraine repel Russian advances.
But so far missing from a new weapons package that officials from NATO states will reaffirm at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday are American and German-made tanks that Ukraine’s leaders say are desperately needed — an issue that is expected to be center stage in the talks.
The debate over whether either country will allow their tanks onto Ukraine’s battlefields has been brewing for months. But after British officials gave word last week that they would send a platoon of Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, demands have amped up for Berlin and Washington to quickly follow suit.
However, Germany has long refused to send its most potent weapons to countries in conflict, a byproduct of its legacy of starting World War II. That has included prohibiting the export of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine — even those that have been sold to other armies.
The reluctance also reflects a sharp division among Germans, as indicated in recent polling, over sending battle tanks to Ukraine despite widespread support for providing other weapons.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany has repeatedly said he would not “go it alone” when it comes to sending weapons into Ukraine, and would only act in concert with allies.
In practice, that has more narrowly meant that he will not act without Washington. This week, German officials said that Mr. Scholz had insisted that Berlin would not send any of its own Leopard tanks unless the United States sends its M1 Abrams tanks as well.
What is not yet clear is whether Mr. Scholz would allow other nations to send their Leopards without sending any itself. Poland and Finland have already said they would donate the tanks from their own stockpiles if Berlin issues licenses to re-export them.
And the United States is not expected to send Abrams tanks any time soon, according to two American defense officials, if ever.
The Biden administration has long asserted that American-made M1 Abrams tanks — with their needs for specific fuel, frequent maintenance and spare parts, transport and training — are ill-suited to battle in eastern Ukraine, where supply lines could easily be cut off.
More broadly, officials worry that American tanks would be seen as a sign of escalation by the United States — a risky step for a global superpower that is trying to avoid a broader conflict.
Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.
Before sunrise one day last week, the conductor Dalia Stasevska was deep in concentration in a Helsinki studio, ruminating on phrasing and transitions as she studied the score of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Then, at 10 a.m., she put away her music and set out on a mission.
Ms. Stasevska, 38, a Kyiv-born musician who lives in Finland, drove across Helsinki in search of power generators to send to Ukraine, where millions of people, including her friends and relatives, have faced electricity shortages because of Russia’s continuing attacks. Later, she visited a factory in central Finland to inspect hundreds of stoves that she plans to send to families hit hard by the war.
“We can’t look away or get tired, because the war machine does not get tired,” she said in a video interview after the factory visit. “We have to be in this together and do everything we can for Ukraine.”
Since the start of the war last year, Ms. Stasevska, a rising young conductor, has been navigating the roles of artist and activist.
As the principal guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Britain and the chief conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Finland, she maintains a busy concert schedule and makes frequent appearances in the United States. Starting Friday, she will lead the New York Philharmonic in a series of concerts featuring the violinist Lisa Batiashvili in the Tchaikovsky concerto.
In between rehearsals and concerts, she devotes herself to promoting the cause of Ukraine. She said she had raised more than 200,000 euros (about $216,000) since the start of the invasion and had driven trucks loaded with supplies into the country. She is also a prolific commenter on social media, calling on Western governments to provide more weapons to Ukraine and denouncing Russia as a “terrorist state.”
Stasevska said that her aim was to continue to shine light on the suffering in Ukraine and to help bring an end to the war.
“I can’t save Ukraine by playing music, but I can use my mouth and speak out, and I can act,” she said. “We can’t just hide behind our virtues. There comes a time for action.”
A regional security organization in Europe that promotes peace and human rights has demanded an explanation after video emerged appearing to show some of its armored vehicles that had been stuck in Russia being transported into an occupied part of eastern Ukraine.
Photos and video posted on social media this week showed white S.U.V.s with the logo of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe moving through a Russian border checkpoint into the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
The O.S.C.E., which counts Ukraine and Russia among its 57 members, advocates for human rights and arms control, among other things, and helps monitor elections. It had led a special monitoring mission in Ukraine since March of 2014, but that mission was shut down after Russia’s invasion.
After the invasion, personnel drove the vehicles to Rostov-on-Don, Russia, in what the organization said was “the safest and quickest evacuation route.” But while the O.S.C.E. staff members were able to travel onward, the cars “were held back for customs processing,” the organization said in a statement on Friday.
“Since then, the O.S.C.E. has persistently worked with the Russian Federation in order to retrieve the vehicles,” it said, “but despite numerous efforts and proposals” Russia has not allowed the organization to get them back.
The regional security organization said that it “cannot independently verify the physical location of the vehicles” since it has not had a presence in areas outside of the Ukrainian government’s control since March. But the O.S.C.E. has sent a “formal request” to Russia’s delegation “seeking an explanation as to the vehicles’ whereabouts,” the statement said.
“Any use of O.S.C.E.-marked vehicles in the Donbas region is unauthorized and is not undertaken by the O.S.C.E.,” it added.
The statement came one day after Yevhen Tsymbaliuk, Ukraine’s permanent representative to the International Organizations in Vienna, said Russia had “stolen around 50” O.S.C.E. vehicles.
“These vehicles reportedly were transferred by Russia to the temporary occupied territory in eastern Ukraine last weekend,” he told the O.S.C.E.’s permanent council on Thursday, according to the Ukrinform news agency.
The United States also was “very concerned” about the reports that O.S.C.E. armored vehicles had been “appropriated by Russia and used in its war of aggression against Ukraine,” Michael Carpenter, the permanent U.S. representative to the organization, said on Thursday.
“This is completely unacceptable,” he said in a statement.
Two of the organization’s Ukrainian staff members have been sentenced to 13 years in prison on treason charges by a court in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine, a move the regional security organization condemned as “political theater” and castigated as “inhumane.” The O.S.C.E. has called for their immediate release, along with that of a third staff member who remains in detention.
WASHINGTON — For years, the United States has insisted that Crimea is still part of Ukraine. Yet the Biden administration has held to a hard line since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, refusing to provide Kyiv with the weapons it needs to target the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia has been using as a base for launching devastating strikes.
After months of discussions with Ukrainian officials, the Biden administration is finally starting to concede that Kyiv may need the power to strike the Russian sanctuary, even if such a move increases the risk of escalation, according to several U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive debate. Crimea, between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, is home to tens of thousands of dug-in Russian troops and numerous Russian military bases.
The moderation in position has come about as the Biden administration has come to believe that if the Ukrainian military can show Russia that its control of Crimea can be threatened, that would strengthen Kyiv’s position in any future negotiations. In addition, fears that the Kremlin would retaliate using a tactical nuclear weapon have dimmed, U.S. officials and experts said — though they cautioned that the risk remained.
Now, the Biden administration is considering what would be one of its boldest moves yet, helping Ukraine to attack the peninsula that President Vladimir V. Putin views as an integral part of his quest to restore past Russian glory.
American officials are discussing with their Ukrainian counterparts the use of American-supplied weapons, from HIMARS rocket systems to Bradley fighting vehicles, to possibly target Mr. Putin’s hard-fought control over a land bridge that functions as a critical supply route connecting Crimea to Russia via the Russian-occupied cities of Melitopol and Mariupol.
However, President Biden is not yet ready to give Ukraine the long-range missile systems that Kyiv would need to attack Russian installations on the peninsula.
William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, traveled to Kyiv last week for secret consultations with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, according to two U.S. officials.
The C.I.A. tries to keep Mr. Burns’s travels secret, and the agency never comments on the topic. But one U.S. official acknowledged Mr. Burns’s visit and said that it was meant to “reinforce our continued support for Ukraine and its defense against Russian aggression.”
Since just before the invasion, Mr. Burns has made periodic visits to Ukraine to meet with intelligence officials and to convey information to Mr. Zelensky. A second American official said that Mr. Burns’ recent visit was an intelligence mission designed “to ensure that information continues to flow both ways.” The visit was earlier reported by The Washington Post.
There was no comment from Mr. Zelensky or his office about the meeting.
The U.S. government has periodically complained that it knows more about Russian military movements and plans than Ukraine’s. Kyiv has often been tight-lipped about its operational plans. But before Ukraine’s September counteroffensive, its officials began to share more about their intentions, allowing the U.S. to provide intelligence that helped Kyiv’s military reshape its plans to target weak points in Russian lines.
Mr. Burns also met with senior Ukrainian intelligence officials on his recent trip, though U.S. officials would not discuss the nature of those discussions.
Mr. Burns, a career diplomat, emerged early in the Biden administration as an emergency envoy and problem solver for the White House. And the intelligence relationship between Washington and Kyiv has been vital to the war effort. Ukraine is heavily dependent on insights from the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies on Russian planning.
Shortly before the invasion, he traveled to Ukraine to warn Mr. Zelensky and urge him to shore up defenses around Kyiv. The intelligence provided on that trip helped Ukraine fend off the initial attack by elite Russian airborne troops on Hostomel Airport, north of Kyiv.
The latest visit comes at a crucial point in the war. Ukraine is pushing for more heavy Western weapons, the Russian military has changed its general in command, and the war has ground into a stalemate over the winter aside from the fighting in and around Bakhmut.
Other high-level U.S. officials have also visited Ukraine in recent days. On Monday, a delegation including Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman; Jon Finer, the principal deputy national security adviser; and Colin H. Kahl, the under secretary of defense for policy, met with Mr. Zelensky.
The Pentagon has announced that it will send 90 Stryker armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine, the first such transfer of the versatile eight-wheeled weapons from U.S. military stockpiles to a foreign country.
The Strykers will be joined by 59 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and other weapons as part of a $2.5 billion military aid package for Kyiv. Combined with the 50 Bradleys announced for Ukraine on Jan. 6, the package will give Kyiv the equivalent of two armored brigades’ worth of vehicles, according to a statement emailed to reporters Thursday evening.
What are they?
According to the U.S. Army, there are 18 different variants of the Stryker. Some are built primarily to move infantry soldiers in and out of battle, while others are designed to carry weapons like 120-millimeter mortars to provide fire support. Others carry medium- and large-caliber weapons for direct fire on enemy troops with 30-millimeter cannons or even larger 105-millimeter guns.
Strykers were initially built with flat-bottomed hulls, which proved vulnerable to improvised bombs set to detonate underneath them by insurgents in Iraq. In response, the Army phased those vehicles out with newer Strykers fitted with a V-shaped bottom similar to those used on Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected Vehicles, which are also called MRAPs.
Exactly which version or versions will be provided to Ukraine is unclear.
Why were they created?
U.S. Army leaders decided in the 1990s that the service needed a more mobile strike force that could go anywhere in the world in just four days. That meant they needed a vehicle that was well-armed and armored while still relatively lightweight and small enough to be carried by a C-130 cargo plane.
The Stryker was chosen as the vehicle the Army could build that force around. They first saw combat in Iraq in 2003.
How are they different from the Bradley?
Strykers are less-heavily armored than Bradleys. And at 20 to 23.5 tons they weigh far less than the Bradley, which can weigh as much as 40 tons, according to a 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service.
While Bradleys run on treads, which offer excellent traction over uneven terrain, Strykers run on eight wheels which can still function even if they have been hit with bullets or shrapnel.
Strykers are also much faster than Bradleys, capable of speeds of 60 miles per hour, according to the congressional report.
The Stryker can also be configured in a number of different variants, including some for use by engineers or as ambulances.
How will they be used in Ukraine?
The Pentagon’s announcement Thursday said that the 90 Strykers would also be provided with 20 mine-rollers — wheeled sleds that are designed to be heavy enough to trigger anti-vehicle land mines and are pushed ahead of armored vehicles in the hopes of clearing safe paths through minefields.
As the war between Ukraine and Russia has evolved into a more static battle between entrenched soldiers protected by belts of anti-tank land mines, the combination of Strykers with mine-rollers and additional demolition equipment for what the Pentagon referred to as “obstacle clearing” indicates that the United States is providing Ukraine with specific capabilities intended to enable Kyiv’s armed forces to break though Russian defenses.
Russia’s domestic intelligence agency has opened a criminal case against a United States citizen for collecting intelligence information related to “biological” topics, the country’s Interfax news service reported on Thursday.
The report did not identify the person or say whether the agency, the Federal Security Service, known as F.S.B., had taken an American into custody.
A State Department spokesman said the United States was “aware of unconfirmed reports” of an investigation into an American citizen and was looking into the matter. The spokesman, Vedant Patel, said that he was not aware of a U.S. citizen being detained recently in Russia, but cautioned that the United States often has imperfect information about events there.
“Generally, the Russian Federation does not abide by its obligations to provide timely notification of the detention of U.S. citizens in Russia,” Mr. Patel said. “Russian authorities also don’t regularly inform the embassy of the trial, sentencing or movement of U.S. citizens.”
He added that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow “continues to engage with Russian authorities to ensure timely consular notifications and access to all U.S. citizens.”
One American citizen, Paul Whelan, is in prison in Russia on charges of spying that he and the U.S. government call fabricated. U.S. officials have been working for years to secure his release.
BRUSSELS — A number of countries announced new military aid packages for Ukraine on Thursday, the day before their defense ministers are to gather at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to coordinate their help for Ukraine.
The meeting in Germany will include officials from as many as 50 countries, chaired by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, and will focus on how to provide Ukraine the weapons it needs, including advanced Western tanks, to try to push back Russian troops from occupied territory in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine and some of its allies have been putting pressure on Germany to supply or authorize the export to Ukraine of its advanced Leopard 2 tanks, but Berlin wants Washington in particular to be part of a collective decision to send Western tanks.
To get a jump on the Ramstein gathering, Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, and his Estonian counterpart, Hanno Pevkur, hosted a meeting of their colleagues from the Baltics and Central Europe at an army base in Estonia to announce more military aid for Ukraine.
Some of the donations listed in the so-called Tallinn Pledge — which was also signed by Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Slovakia — had already been announced, including Britain’s commitment to send Challenger 2 tanks. Others appeared new, including another round of Brimstone missiles from Britain and S-60 anti-aircraft guns with 70,000 pieces of ammunition from Poland.
The countries said in a joint statement that they were committed to “collectively pursuing delivery of an unprecedented set of donations” in support of Ukraine.
“Together we will continue supporting Ukraine to move from resisting to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil,” the statement said.
Western officials say that Ukraine has only a narrow window before an anticipated Russian springtime offensive, and they have been working to speed heavy, sophisticated weapons to Kyiv.
In Brussels, after a meeting of top NATO defense officials known as the Military Committee, its chairman, Adm. Rob Bauer of the Netherlands, and the top American officer in Europe, Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, said that quality tanks are important for Ukraine as part of what they called “a balance of all systems.”
“There is not a particular weapon system that is a silver bullet,” General Cavoli said. “In the end, attack simply comes down to a balance between firepower, mobility and protection,” and tanks can play an important role in military success.
The officers were careful to say that individual nations were making their own decisions about supplying Ukraine with particular weapons systems, but they made it clear that the Russians were rebuilding their own military stocks.
“In a war like it is being fought, every type of equipment is necessary,” Admiral Bauer said. “And the Russians are fighting with tanks. So the Ukrainians need tanks as well.”
Details of fresh weapons aid have begun to emerge ahead of the Ramstein meeting, including plans by the United States for a $2.5 billion package that includes nearly 100 Stryker combat vehicles, and a pledge from Sweden to deliver NLAW anti-tank missiles and CV90 infantry fighting vehicles in its largest equipment package to date.
Estonia said the package it announced on Thursday as part of the Tallinn Pledge was also its largest military aid package yet to Ukraine, including remote fire and anti-tank weapons as well as ammunition worth a total of 113 million euros, or about $122 million. Military assistance to Ukraine will increase to 370 million euros, or slightly more than 1 percent of Estonia’s gross domestic product.
“The free world must continue to provide arms assistance to Ukraine, and do so at much greater scale and speed,” Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, said in a statement. “All countries must look into their stockpiles and ensure that industries are able to produce more and faster.”