RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (Reuters) – Ukraine pressed allies for long-range weapons, jets and ammunition as the United States hosted a meeting at the Ramstein air base in Germany on Friday to discuss stepped-up support to repel the Russian invasion.
U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the meeting would focus on air defence and ammunition as he opened the latest in a series of arms-pledging conferences ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the coming weeks or months.
NATO member states and their allies have provided Ukraine with weapons and armour since Russia’s unleashed its invasion in February last year, but Ukraine’s leadership has repeatedly asked for more powerful weapons and quicker supplies.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pressed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on this point at a meeting in Kyiv on Thursday and said it was time for the military alliance to open its doors to Ukrainian membership.
“I have asked Mr Secretary General to help us overcome our partners’ reticence to supply some weapons, namely long-range weapons, modern aviation, artillery and armoured vehicles,” Zelenskiy said.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Stoltenberg said NATO allies agreed Ukraine would eventually become a member and that Zelenskiy had been invited to attend the next NATO summit in July.
But the focus now was to ensure Ukraine prevailed against Russia, he said, adding that he expected allies on Friday to announce new support.
“Maybe it sounds a bit more boring, but…This is now a battle of attrition, and a battle of attrition becomes a war of logistics,” he said.
Ahead of the meeting, Washington had unveiled an additional $325 million in new military aid for Ukraine, including additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), advanced missiles and anti-tank mines.
Separately, Denmark and the Netherlands had announced sending 14 German-made Leopard 2 heavy tanks to Ukraine by early next year.
Friday’s meeting comes at a vital juncture in Russia’s almost 14-month-old invasion which has killed thousands, uprooted millions, destroyed cities and devastated the Ukrainian economy.
After weathering a Russian winter and spring offensive that has made only small advances in the east, Ukraine now hopes to retake land in its south and east in a counteroffensive in the coming weeks or months.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius told public broadcaster ZDF late on Thursday he expected Ukraine to raise the issue of advanced jets but played down expectations that Western countries would supply the F-16s that Kyiv wants.
He said Friday’s meeting would be mainly about air defence and ammunition, “the question how to finance and design the maintenance hubs for the equipment that we have delivered – the Leopard tanks, the Marders, the howitzers.”