Zelenskyy thanks allies for the tanks but highlights aircraft need

Zelenskyy thanks allies for the tanks but highlights aircraft need
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Credit: Philip Reynaers / Belga

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has profusely thanked his American and German counterparts for supplying his country with modern Western tanks but has requested that long-range missiles and even Western aircraft now be delivered to Ukraine to help it achieve "victory "against Russia.

In a speech delivered late on Wednesday evening, Zelenskyy said that he was "grateful to all our allies for their willingness to provide us with modern and much-needed tanks". He praised the creation of what he called a "tank coalition" as "extremely good news for Ukraine".

However, he highlighted Ukraine's needs "in other aspects of our defence cooperations", and suggested that he had recently made a personal request for other modern weapons systems — including aircraft and long-range missiles — from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"We have to unlock the supply of long-range missiles to Ukraine, it is important for us to expand our cooperation in artillery, we must supply aircraft to Ukraine." He called this "An important task for us all."

No red lines?

It is not improbable that Zelenskyy's request will eventually be granted. Germany and the US's decision to deliver Ukraine with Leopard 2 and M1A1 Abrams tanks respectively marks would have been considered unthinkable just a few months ago.

Shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion, the Pentagon explicitly ruled out supplying Ukraine with the advanced Patriot air defence systems, arguing that their delivery would be seen by Moscow as a major provocation, especially given that their operation would require the presence of US troops on Ukrainian soil.

"There's no discussion about putting a Patriot battery in Ukraine," an unnamed senior defence official said back in March. "You need US troops to operate it. It is not a system that the Ukrainians are familiar with and as we have made very clear, there will be no US troops fighting in Ukraine."

The US subsequently agreed to send the Patriot missile systems in December.

Similarly, the prospect of sending M1A1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine had been explicitly ruled out by US officials as late as September.

"These are not rental cars, there's a lot that goes with it," Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, a former commander of US Army Europe, told Politico. "You are basically adding hundreds of additional things that would have to be carried along… You look at a US Army tank company today, there are thousands of gallons of fuel following behind them every day."

Hodges' words were echoed by an unnamed US official: "It's a pretty high hurdle to supply Ukraine not only with US-made tanks but also the parts to maintain them. You don't want to give them something that's going to break down and run out of gas."

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