Germany to send anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine



Germany will sell anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine and will train the country’s defenders, a major policy shift as Allies pledge more military support for the nation under attack by Russia.

There are growing concerns the violence will spill out into other countries, following bomb blasts in a breakaway region of Moldova.

But that nation’s leader has urged calm, explaining the explosions were the result of “internal differences between various groups…that have an interest in destabilising the situation”.

In more hopeful news, the head of the United Nations believes the organisation is close to securing a pathway out for the people trapped inside a steel plant in the city of Mariupol.

Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed “in principle” to the UN and Red Cross evacuating civilians.

That followed a meeting between Mr Putin and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Meanwhile, Mr Putin’s government continues to claim that the West is trying to initiate a proxy war.

Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov had earlier said Ukraine was being encouraged to sabotage peace talks.

Another of Mr Putin’s close allies, Nikolai Patrushev, said Ukraine was spiralling towards a collapse into “several states” due to what he cast as American attempts to use Ukraine to undermine Russia.

The comments seemed to be an effort to blame the US for any break-up of Ukraine that emerges from the war, now in its third month.

In a televised interview with Russia’s state Channel One, Mr Lavrov had also raised the threat of nuclear war and warned Ukraine’s allies not to underestimate the “very significant” risk.

He said that while a nuclear war would be “unacceptable” to Russia, the risks had increased because, he claimed, NATO is “engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and arming that proxy”.

American Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday morning the “bluster” about the use of nuclear weapons was “dangerous and unhelpful”.

Read on for more on the latest out of Ukraine.

Allies meet at Ramstein to plan support

The United States and its allies on Tuesday pledged new packages of ever heavier weapons for Ukraine during a meeting at an air base in Germany.

US officials have switched emphasis this week from speaking mainly about helping Ukraine defend itself to bolder talk of a Ukrainian victory that would weaken Russia’s ability to threaten its neighbours.

Mr Austin welcomed officials from more than 40 countries to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, headquarters of US air power in Europe.

“Nations from around the world stand united in our resolve to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s imperial aggression,” Mr Austin said.

“Ukraine clearly believes that it can win, and so does everyone here.”

AAP reported that leaders in attendance were mainly from Europe but also beyond, including Israel, Kenya and Australia.

On a screen, representatives from South Korea and Japan attended virtually.

“This gathering reflects the galvanised world,” Mr Austin said.

In a policy reversal, Germany announced it would now send Gepard light tanks with anti-aircraft guns.

The German government had come under pressure after refusing Ukrainian pleas for heavy weapons.

German Ambassador the US confirmed Germany would send Gepard – ‘Cheetah’, in English – tanks and train Ukrainian soldiers.

The tanks can shoot down aircraft up to 6 kilometres away.

Defense News reports the tanks, made by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann,  are considered a no-frills defence against drones.

“The Cheetahs’ capabilities, which include armour-piercing rounds, are in line with Germany’s strategy of sending only equipment to Ukraine that is defensive in nature,” Defense News reporters wrote.

“US and NATO leaders have stressed that the Western alliance has no plan to get involved in the conflict directly.”

Blasts in Moldova

Moldova’s president said a series of attacks in the Russia-backed breakaway region of Transdniestria were an attempt by factions within the territory to increase tensions, and the Kremlin has voiced serious concern.

Maia Sandu spoke after Moldova’s Security Council held an urgent meeting prompted by two blasts which damaged masts that broadcast Russian radio in the region, where authorities said a military unit was also targeted.

The Moldovan authorities are sensitive to any sign of worsening security in Transdniestria, an unrecognised Russian-backed sliver of land bordering southwestern Ukraine, especially since the invasion of Ukraine.

The BBC reports that if Russia reinforces that region it could enable invading forces to capture the strategically important port city of Odesa.

“From the information we have at this moment, these escalation attempts stem from factions from within the Transdniestrian region who are pro-war forces and interested in destabilising the situation in the region,” Ms Sandu said.

She said the security council had recommended improving the combat readiness of security forces, increasing the number of patrols and checks near Moldova’s border with Transdniestria and monitoring critical infrastructure more closely.

Russia has had troops permanently based in Transdniestria since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine fears the region could be used as a launch pad for new attacks.

“In the early morning of April 26, two explosions occurred in the village of Maiac, Grigoriopol district: the first at 6.40 and the second at 7.05,” Transdniestria’s interior ministry said.

No residents were hurt but two radio antennae that broadcast in Russian were knocked out, it said.

Separately, Transdniestria’s Security Council reported a “terrorist attack” on a military unit near the city of Tiraspol, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

Last week, a senior Russian military official said the second phase of what Russia calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine included a plan to take full control of southern Ukraine and improve its access to Transdniestria.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday the news was a cause for serious concern and that Russia was following events closely.

Later in the day, the Russian foreign ministry said it wanted to avoid a scenario in which it had to intervene in Transdniestria, the RIA news agency reported.

Mr Austin said the US was still examining the cause of the blasts, but said “certainly we don’t want to see any spillover”.

– with AAP

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