Poland’s prime minister said on Monday that his government would ask Germany for permission to send German-made tanks to Ukraine but insisted that whether Berlin approved or not, Warsaw would build a coalition of nations willing to donate some of Europe’s most advanced weaponry.
“We’ll ask for permission, but it’s a secondary issue,” the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, told reporters, according to the Polish news agency PAP.
“Even if we ultimately don’t receive permission, then, despite that, we’d transfer our tanks to Ukraine together with others within a small coalition, even if Germany is not in the coalition,” Mr. Morawiecki added.
It was unclear when Poland, whose officials have been among the loudest voices urging the provision of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, would formally request authorization from Germany. Poland is legally required to ask Germany, the tanks’ maker, for a license to re-export the tanks. The Leopards are stocked by many European countries, and Kyiv sees obtaining them as crucial to its war effort ahead of fighting that is expected to intensify this spring.
Germany has so far resisted sending its own Leopards to Ukraine but says that no other countries have formally asked for authorization to transfer their Leopards to Kyiv. On Sunday, Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, signaled that Berlin was open to allowing allies to send the tanks to Ukraine. She told the French channel LCI TV that Germany “wouldn’t stand in the way” if Poland decided to send them, though she added that Warsaw had not yet asked for such authorization.
Boris Pistorius, Germany’s new defense minister who has urged patience with the country’s deliberation, said in a television interview on Monday that a decision will come “soon” on whether it will send its own tanks or allow a group of other nations to re-export Leopards.
While European nations and the European Union have provided nearly 50 billion euros in aid to Ukraine so far — including €500 million announced Monday by the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles — Germany has been slower than some other European nations in sending advanced weapons.
Wary of escalating the conflict with Russia, Germany has said that it would coordinate with allies including the United States on the provision of tanks. Washington has supplied Ukraine with an increasingly powerful array of advanced weapons, but has so far declined to send its best tank, the M1 Abrams, pointing to the logistical hurdles posed by a fuel-guzzling vehicle that requires continuous maintenance.
On Sunday, the new chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, argued on ABC’s “This Week” that the United States should send at least one M1 Abrams to Ukraine to persuade Germany to greenlight the Leopards.
Ukraine’s appeals for tanks and more weapons from the West have taken on greater urgency with the approach of spring, when both sides in the conflict are preparing offensives, officials have said. And Russia’s recent claims to have captured the small eastern towns of Soledar and Klishchiivka — part of a broader push to seize the city of Bakhmut — have added to the pressure.
“We need tanks — not 10 or 20, but several hundred,” said Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
Mr. Zelensky said that although a few dozen Western tanks might not be decisive compared with Russia’s fleet of hundreds, they would help Ukrainian forces on the battlefield and lift troops’ morale.
“They motivate our soldiers to fight for their own values,” Mr. Zelensky said in an interview with the German TV channel ARD that was broadcast on Sunday. “Because they show that the whole world is with you.”
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said on Monday that the pressure Germany was facing showed “nervousness” among Ukraine’s allies, but he warned that Ukraine would ultimately bear the consequences if the West sends tanks.
“The main thing is that the Ukrainian people will have to pay for all these actions, for all this pseudo-support,” he said, according to the official news agency Tass.
Cassandra Vinograd, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Lauren McCarthy contributed reporting.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has vowed to take action against corruption in the wake of an official’s dismissal for embezzlement, stressing that the focus on the war would not detract from tackling an endemic issue in his country.
Corruption plagued Ukraine long before Russia launched its full-scale invasion in late February. And while fighting Russian aggression has been the primary focus of Mr. Zelensky’s government, corruption has remained a priority — especially as weapons and aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars flood into the country, and the price tag for reconstruction efforts is estimated to be in the billions.
Mr. Zelensky, who came to power in 2019 on a promise of cleaning up corruption, acknowledged in his overnight address Sunday that the government’s “main focus is on defense, foreign policy, and war.”
“But this does not mean that I do not see or hear what is being said in society at different levels,” he said, citing issues with energy and military procurement, and saying his government would “take the necessary powerful steps.”
Mr. Zelensky said he hoped the dismissal of a deputy minister on Sunday would send a “signal to all those whose actions or behavior violate the principle of justice.”
“I want this to be clear: There will be no return to what used to be in the past,” Mr. Zelensky said
On Monday, Mr. Zelensky announced in his nightly address that government officials would now be prohibited from traveling abroad for vacation or any other non-governmental purpose, and that a border-crossing procedure for officials would be developed within days.
While Mr. Zelensky did not name the dismissed official, Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry identified him as Vasyl Lozynsky, a deputy minister in the office. His firing came after Ukraine’s top anti-corruption agency and the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office “exposed and stopped the activities of an organized criminal group involved in the embezzlement of budget funds,” according to Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister.
The agency, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, said that Mr. Lozynsky was part of that group and had been detained while getting a $400,000 bribe for helping with equipment and machinery purchasing contracts. Detectives were working to identify other people involved in the organization, the N.A.B.U. said in a statement.
The contracts were related to restoring critical infrastructure facilities and providing light, heat and water during the winter, the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office said in a statement. Over the past several months, Russia has pummeled Ukraine with strikes on infrastructure targets designed to spread misery among civilians.
Even as Russia’s war on Ukraine grinds on with no end in sight, Ukraine’s allies have been grappling with complicated questions about the country’s reconstruction: Who will pay for what, and who should control the process and the funds? What kind of external oversight of the money should be required? Kyiv has said it will need $750 billion to rebuild its infrastructure, though a report in September by the Washington-based German Marshall Fund estimated a price tag of $100 billion.
The European Union has tied Ukraine’s candidate status to overhauls of the rule of law, justice and anti-corruption. In addition to concerns about the risk of corruption tainting post-war reconstruction efforts, some U.S. officials have expressed concerns that American weapons given to Ukraine could be diverted or stolen for resale.
Mr. Kubrakov, the infrastructure minister, said on Sunday that he would instruct his office to review “all active projects” — including its budget and foreign funding.
“We continue to work,” he said in a Facebook post.
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 high-level F.B.I. official has been indicted in New York and Washington on charges of taking money from a former foreign intelligence service agent and conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions on Russia by taking secret payments from a Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, the authorities said on Monday.
The former official, Charles McGonigal, who had been the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division in New York before retiring in 2018, had supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Mr. Deripaska, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said.
Federal prosecutors said that Mr. McGonigal, 54, had broken U.S. law by agreeing to help Mr. Deripaska, who himself was indicted last year on sanctions charges, attempting to get off the sanctions list and by investigating a rival oligarch.
The charges, an extremely serious and rare accusation against an F.B.I. official, demonstrate that the reach of Russia’s oligarchs can extend into the heart of American law enforcement.
Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement that the office would continue to prosecute individuals “who violate U.S. sanctions enacted in response to Russian belligerence in Ukraine in order to line their own pockets.”
Mr. McGonigal’s lawyer, Seth D. DuCharme, said his client intended to plead not guilty when he appears in federal court in Manhattan on Monday.
The diplomatic ties between Moscow and the Baltic States frayed further on Monday as Russia and Estonia downgraded relations and each ordered the other’s ambassador out of the country, and Latvia said that it, too, would downgrade relations with Russia next month, on the anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
The Baltic countries, which have been among Ukraine’s most robust supporters in the European Union since the invasion began, have in recent days called on Western allies to send battle tanks to Kyiv.
This month, Estonia said it would reduce the size of the Russian embassy in its capital, Tallinn, because the staff there was not interested in advancing Estonian-Russian relations. At the time, Estonia’s foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu, said his country had reduced its relations with Russia “to the absolute minimum” since the start of the war.
On Monday, the Russian Foreign Ministry responded by ordering the Estonian ambassador to leave Russia, accusing the country of “total Russophobia.”
“The Estonian leadership has purposefully destroyed the entire range of relations with Russia,” the ministry said. Estonia’s ambassador, the ministry said, would have to leave Russia by Feb. 7.
In response, Mr. Reinsalu said Russia’s ambassador would have to leave his country, citing “the principle of parity in relations.”
Latvia, in a show of solidarity, said it would also downgrade diplomatic relations with Russia as of Feb. 24. Edgars Rinkevics, the Latvian foreign minister, wrote on Twitter that the downgrade was also in response to “ongoing brutal Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
Ever since the defeat of Nazism, Germany has self-consciously devoted itself to promoting “peace” and integrating into a European and trans-Atlantic security order where consensus has been the byword.
Russia’s war in Ukraine is now forcing Germany to rethink decades-old ideas about its place in Europe, its relationship to Russia and the use of military force.
Germany built its postwar economy on cheap Russian energy and supposedly apolitical trade with Central and Eastern Europe, as well as with the Soviet Union and China, believing that trade produces change, somehow moderating authoritarian regimes.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has challenged all of that. It has been as much a psychological shock to Germany as a political one, undercutting many of its assumptions about Russia; about its president, Vladimir V. Putin; and about the role of Germany in a Europe suddenly at war.
Nowhere is the disorientation more apparent than in Germany’s reluctance, for now, to send Ukraine its main battle tank, the Leopard 2, or to allow other countries to do so. The stance has risked isolating Germany and exasperating its allies. Most important, the Ukrainians say, Germany’s hesitance threatens to hamper their ability to hold off or turn around an anticipated Russian offensive this spring.
While Germans overwhelmingly support Ukraine in its fight, the hesitation on sending tanks reflects the deep ambivalence in a nation that has a catastrophic history of aggression and that remains profoundly divided about being a military leader and risking a direct confrontation with Russia. Opinion polls show that half of Germans do not want to send tanks.
The top diplomats from Russia and South Africa pushed back on Monday at criticism of their countries’ decision to hold joint naval exercises with China, accusing the United States of hypocrisy and of trying to dictate the diplomatic and military relations of other nations.
“I don’t understand how this can provoke a mixed reaction,” Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said during a joint news conference with his South African counterpart in Pretoria, the South African capital.
“Maybe only with our American colleagues because they believe that only they can have exercises all over the world,” Mr. Lavrov added. “Not only on their more than 200 military bases all over the world, but at any place.”
Mr. Lavrov’s visit to Pretoria came days after South Africa’s military announced that it planned to hold joint training exercises off its coast with Russia and China next month, coinciding with the anniversary of the start of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last Feb. 24.
The announcement drew sharp criticism from the United States, which has forged a decades-long strategic partnership with South Africa and has been trying to rally other countries to isolate Russia over the war in Ukraine. David Feldmann, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, expressed “concern” over the drills. “We encourage South Africa to cooperate militarily with fellow democracies that share our mutual commitment to human rights and the rule of law,” he said.
Analysts say the naval exercise is a show of diplomatic independence for South Africa and a signal from Pretoria that it will not allow the war in Ukraine to dictate its foreign relations.
Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor of South Africa, speaking alongside Mr. Lavrov at the news conference, said that African nations needed to resist being held to a double standard by other countries that say “what I do is OK for me but you cannot do it because you are a developing country or you are Africa.”
“That is an abuse of international practice,” Ms. Pandor added. “All countries conduct military exercises with friends worldwide. So there should be no compulsion on any country that it should conduct them with any other partners.”
Ms. Pandor said that the visiting Russian delegation had briefed her on the war in Ukraine. “We reiterated, as I’ve done publicly, South Africa’s desire that there be a diplomatic solution and that negotiations should be something all of us work toward,” she said, and suggested that negotiations be done through the United Nations.
South Africa has conducted military exercises with Russia and China before, as well as with the United States and NATO countries. The South African National Defense Force said that the upcoming drills, to be held from Feb. 17 to 27 near the coastal towns of Durban and Richards Bay, are a “means to strengthen the already flourishing relations between South Africa, Russia and China.”
KYIV, Ukraine — On a recent gray Sunday in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, some 45 people, gathered at noon in a small park near a broad canal.
For about $10 apiece, the tour group — mostly young Ukrainians from creative and professional industries — were eager to take in the modernist, Soviet-era art and architecture of Troieshchyna, a sprawling bedroom community.
As the temperature hovered just above freezing — not particularly cold by the standards of a Ukrainian winter — the group showed enthusiasm during the three-hour walking tour through the down-at-the-heels district on the east, or left, side of the Dnipro River, which splits Kyiv roughly in half.
“It’s pretty neglected,” Dmytro Soloviov, 32, the group’s guide, said of Troieshchyna. “The left bank is underappreciated.” People have a lot of “negative myths” about the neighborhood and wider area, “that it’s dangerous or a slum,” Mr. Soloviov added. “So it was interesting for me to try to debunk that perception.”
Mr. Soloviov who is originally from the eastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, runs the @ukrainianmodernism account on Instagram, the photo-sharing app. Like his tours, the account is dedicated to cultivating an appreciation for the grand concrete forms and pixelated mosaics that are ubiquitous across much of the former Soviet bloc.
Mr. Soloviov, who worked at a video game development company until he was laid off last summer amid the economic fallout of the war, said the sold-out Troieshchyna tour is one of his most popular. “Troieshchyna is a purely modernist neighborhood,” he said.
When Mr. Soloviov began his project celebrating Ukraine’s architecture in 2018, the main threat to his beloved buildings was overzealous developers.
“Now another threat has been added by the Russians,” he said.
Modernist architecture plays a key role in Ukrainian history, he said, and “people do not understand its value, its beauty, and they tend to hate it.” It was painful for him to discover this negative attitude, he said, which “also mixes with the attitude toward the Soviet era.”
Mr. Soloviov’s enthusiasm for modernist architecture is infectious, and although he did not believe the invasion had driven more interest in Ukraine’s modernist architecture, several attendees disagreed.
Katya Zakrevska, 21, a Twitch streamer participating in her third excursion with Mr. Soloviov, said she thought the invasion had increased Ukrainians’ appreciation for their own history, though that has come at a cost.
“I’m glad people understand that our culture and history are important,” she said, “but the price is too high.”
The process of de-communization has seen Ukraine move away from the historical baggage of its Soviet history. The effort began in earnest with Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991, and accelerated following the 2014 civil uprising, known as Maidan, or the Revolution of Dignity, with a series of laws that banned Communist symbols and designated the Soviet Union as a criminal regime.
Kateryna Slenzak, 22, a psychology student and project manager on the tour, said there was a fine line between appreciating art and Soviet nostalgia. “We need to separate de-communization from modernist works that were made by our Ukrainian artists,” many of whom were repressed by the Soviet government.
Ukrainians “were creating amazing art and building beautiful buildings,” during the decades of Soviet rule, Mr. Soloviov said.
“The architecture, what’s wrong with it? It’s good, we should preserve it and try to remove the negatives from the past like censorship and lack of freedom,” he said. “That’s the de-communization that must happen. Not in terms of demolishing built heritage, it must be de-communization of the mind.”
KYIV, Ukraine — When the blare of the siren rang out over the loud speaker, the students in a school in central Kyiv quickly rose from their desks, packed their things and filed calmly down the stairs behind their teachers. But this wasn’t a drill.
Amid the darkness, huddled in the narrow hallway of their basement shelter, students chatted among themselves. Some used the lights on their smartphones to continue working on classroom assignments.
They would remain in the shelter for nearly two hours until the threat of a potential airstrike passed. It is the new reality for the 430 schoolchildren, ages 6 to 18, who still attend classes in person at this large public elementary and high school in Ukraine’s capital. Although classes resumed in September, a relentless barrage of Russian strikes targeting the city since October has crippled the country’s power grid, caused rolling blackouts in Kyiv and offered the latest challenge to education during wartime.
“We hope this will not last for a long time,” said Olena Romanova, 50, who has been the principal of the school for the past decade. “We also have a generator, but since the school is large, it cannot meet the needs of the entire institution.”
Initially, the school struggled to adapt, and some students’ grades faltered, she said, but the school is doing its best to adapt to the new obstacles. Schools across the Ukrainian capital have shuttered for January amid continuing power cuts, and Ms. Romanova said teachers had been offering extra lessons online to try to keep students up to speed.
But a visit to one school in the city in late December, before the winter break, offered a window into the hardships these children need to overcome, and their determination to continue on, with parents and teachers doing what they can to provide them with some sense of normalcy.
There are normally 850 children enrolled in this school. But in December some classes were only half full, as many students are opting to study online, and some parents believe it’s safer for their children to study from home. Some students are living abroad, after fleeing alongside millions of other Ukrainians, but continue to dial into classes.
On the flip side, some new students have joined the classrooms, displaced from battered communities closer to the front lines in Ukraine’s east. The school requested that its exact name be withheld for security and privacy reasons.
But few aspects of the education process are untouched by the war. With Russian strikes a constant threat, high school students receive first aid training at school. During last month’s visit, a group of high school girls practiced applying tourniquets and bandages on one another.
For now, though, the blackouts remain the most pressing concern.
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.
American and European officials believe that Russian military intelligence officers directed associates of a white supremacist militant group based in Russia to carry out a recent letter bomb campaign in Spain whose most prominent targets were the prime minister, the defense minister and foreign diplomats, according to U.S. officials.
Spanish and foreign investigators have been looking into who sent six letter bombs in late November and early December to sites mostly in Madrid, including the official residence of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, which also serves as his office; the American and Ukrainian Embassies; and the Defense Ministry.
No one was killed in the attacks, which U.S. officials consider terrorism. An employee of the Ukrainian Embassy was injured when one of the packages exploded.
Investigators in recent weeks have focused on the Russian Imperial Movement, a group that has members and associates across Europe and military-style training centers in St. Petersburg, Russia, the officials said. They added that the group, which has been designated a global terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, is believed to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies. Important members of the group have been in Spain, and the police there have tracked its ties with Spanish far-right organizations.
The apparent aim of the attacks was to signal that Russia and its proxies could carry out terrorist strikes across Europe, including in the capitals of member states of NATO, which is helping defend Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, said the U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivities around the investigation. Spain is a member of the alliance and has given military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as diplomatic support.
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Last month a message was smuggled out to friends from 10 Ukrainian detainees in Russian-occupied territory. The men, among hundreds of other civilian prisoners missing for weeks since the Russian withdrawal from the city of Kherson, said they were alive but in dire need of help.
“They asked us to contact their relatives and tell the media that they are alive,” said Andriy, a former detainee and friend of some of the detainees, who, like others interviewed for this article, gave only his first name for security reasons. “They are being tortured and held without any legal basis.”
The retreat of Russian forces from whole swaths of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine last fall raised hopes for many Ukrainians that their detained relatives would be freed and that the country’s forces would build on that momentum and swiftly recapture more territory in the region.
But the Russian retreat proved to be orderly to the point that even prisoners were evacuated, and Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south has largely halted as heavy fighting has been concentrated on the eastern front.
Yet, for families living in the occupied areas, or who have relatives detained there, a further Ukrainian counteroffensive could not come soon enough, even if it brings added risks.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Wednesday that Germany would send an initial shipment of 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow other nations to send their own, relenting after weeks of domestic and international pressure to deliver armored vehicles aimed at helping Kyiv regain territory seized by Russia.
The move came hours before President Biden announced that the United States will send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, appearing to assuage Mr. Scholz’s reluctance to send tanks without Washington also doing so.
Berlin’s decision to send the German-made Leopard 2s follows Britain’s announcement this month that it would send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, and is a significant step in Western allies’ supply of ever heavier weapons to Kyiv.
While the pledges so far fall short of the 300 tanks that Ukraine has said it needs to make a difference against Russian forces on the battlefield, Germany’s announcement prompted officials in Finland, the Netherlands, Spain and Norway to say that they would seek to send tanks to Ukraine, or were open to doing so.
Ukraine’s pleas for more advanced weapons have taken on added urgency in recent weeks as Russia prepares for a possible new offensive, and as Ukrainian forces are locked in a withering battle of attrition against Russian troops in the east. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s military acknowledged that it had retreated from Soledar, a small salt-mining town near Bakhmut, a strategic eastern city that Russian forces have been fighting to capture in months of brutal trench warfare and artillery battles.
The first tanks could take several months to arrive on the battlefield, but Germany’s decision to authorize other nations to transfer their own Leopards — which are widely distributed in more than a dozen other European countries — could eventually help Ukrainian forces dent Russia’s advantage in troop numbers and equipment. Poland said on Tuesday that it had sought Germany’s permission to send Leopard tanks from its own stocks.
“We’re talking about very effective weapons systems here, and it’s proper that we never provide those weapons systems alone, but always in close cooperation,” Mr. Scholz told lawmakers in Germany’s Parliament.
Ukraine’s allies have sought to strengthen its military without prompting Russia to further escalate the war, and some leaders had worried that battle tanks might cross that line.
Mr. Scholz defended the time he took making the decision. “We always have to make it very clear in everything we do that we are doing what is necessary and what is possible to support Ukraine,” he said. “But at the same time we are preventing the war from escalating into a war between Russia and NATO.”
The German government said that it would send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks directly from its army stock. It said it would send another similarly sized group in a second step, but did not say when, or specify where they would come from.
The Leopard 2, first introduced in 1979, is used by 13 European armies, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations, and together, these militaries have an estimated 2,000 vehicles.
It is one of the world’s leading battle tanks and would offer a big step forward in capability for Ukraine, which has been using Soviet-era tanks.
WASHINGTON — The billions of dollars in new arms for Ukraine announced this month — including British tanks, American fighting vehicles and howitzers from Denmark and Sweden — are testament to President Vladimir V. Putin’s failure to split the NATO allies after nearly a year of war. But small yet significant fractures are getting too big to hide.
The differences are over strategy for the coming year and the more immediate question of what Ukraine needs in the next few months, as both sides in the war prepare for major offensives in the spring. And while most of those debates take place behind closed doors, Britain’s impatience with the current pace of aid and Germany’s refusal to provide Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine broke out into public view this week.
When the new British foreign secretary, James Cleverly, visited Washington last week, he gathered reporters for lunch and made the case that it is possible for Ukraine to score a “victory” in the war this year if the allies move fast to exploit Russia’s weaknesses. Officials in Poland, the Baltic States and Finland have largely agreed with the British assessment.
American officials pushed back, saying it is critical to pace the aid, and not flood Ukraine with equipment its troops cannot yet operate. And they argue that in a world of limited resources, it would be wise to keep something in reserve for what the Pentagon believes will likely be a drawn-out conflict.
On Friday, at the conclusion of a meeting in Germany of the dozens of nations supplying the war effort, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, repeated the assessment he has offered since the fall.
“For this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces,” he said. The best that could be hoped for is pressing Russia into a diplomatic negotiation — the way most wars end — though senior American diplomats say they have low expectations that Mr. Putin will enter serious talks.
Then came the more immediate blowup with the German government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, over his refusal to send what many military experts believe could be a decisive weapon in Ukrainian hands: the German-built Leopard 2 tanks.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spent several days trying to persuade the Germans to ship them, or at least allow Poland and other nations that use the tanks to re-export them. But on Friday, the German defense minister, Boris Pistorius, reported that no agreement had been reached. He and Mr. Austin tried to focus on the unity of the effort to confront Russia, rather than the obvious rift over arms.
DNIPRO, Ukraine — A Russian missile as long as a city bus was nearing the end of a roughly 300-mile flight, its 2,000-pound warhead armed to detonate on impact.
As it was descending through a gray sky last Saturday, traveling at supersonic speed, Rostyslav Yaroshenko, 12, was watching TikTok videos in his kitchen on the third floor at 118 Victory Embankment, a sprawling apartment complex in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro. Six floors up, Yevgeniy Botvynov had just curled up with his wife, Olha, under a blanket, trying to keep warm during yet another power outage.
On the other side of the building, two couples had gathered in their kitchens on the fourth floor, one of them warming a late lunch, the other doting on their 1-year-old son.
It was what passes for an ordinary Saturday for ordinary Ukrainian people these days, in a place far from the front lines of the war with Russia, but never fully at peace. All day, air-raid warnings were sounding, forcing people to make calculations that have become habitual: Go to a shelter or stay home? Take the elevator or the stairs?
Most of the time, life appears to be normal. And then, suddenly, it does not.
Around 3:40 p.m. on the 325th day of Russia’s full-fledged war in Ukraine, an ordinary Saturday turned extraordinary when the Russian Kh-22 missile slammed into 118 Victory Embankment.
Out of 50,000 mercenaries — many of them prison inmates — recruited by the private paramilitary group Wagner to fight alongside regular Russian troops in Ukraine, only about 10,000 remain actively serving, according to a new estimate by Russia Behind Bars, a prisoner rights organization.
The organization’s founder, Olga Romanova, said in an interview on Monday with TV Rain, an independent Russian broadcaster based in the Netherlands, that according to her organization’s data, the other 40,000 recruits have either deserted or surrendered, or been injured or killed.
Wagner’s mercenaries have played a large role in the battle for eastern Ukraine and have also carried out military operations in Africa and elsewhere. Human rights groups have said that the Kremlin is relying on the extralegal use of prisoners to replenish its decimated military.
In September, a visual investigation by The Times revealed footage that appeared to be Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the Russian businessman and close associate of President Vladimir V. Putin who founded Wagner, promising convicts release from prison in return for a six-month combat tour in Russia’s war against Ukraine. In the video, he also warns that any who sign up and try to desert will be shot.
The estimates by Russia Behind Bars could not be independently verified, but the overall number of fighters roughly aligns with a late December assessment shared by John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council. Mr. Kirby said Wagner had about 50,000 people fighting in Ukraine at that time, including 10,000 contractors and about 40,000 inmates recruited from Russian prisons.
In a statement earlier this month, the British Defense Ministry said that Russia was “highly likely resorting” to convict labor in an effort to meet wartime production demands.
On Friday, the White House said the United States was designating the paramilitary group as a significant transnational criminal organization, a move that will expand the number of nations and institutions that can be prevented from doing business with the company.
At a news briefing, Mr. Kirby told reporters, “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.”