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Zelenskyy ramps up pressure on Western allies to send tanks

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DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy bared frustration Thursday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos about not obtaining enough tanks from some Western countries to help his country defend itself from Russia.

Speaking by video link at a breakfast with U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Zelenskyy offered a veiled critique of countries like Germany, Poland and the United States — crucial supporters of Ukraine — that have nonetheless hesitated about sending tanks.

Zelenskyy bemoaned a “lack of specific weaponry” and said that to win the war, “we cannot just do it with motivation and morale.”

“And I would like to thank again for the assistance from our partners,” he said at the Victor Pinchuk Foundation breakfast through an interpreter. “But at the same time, there are times where we shouldn’t hesitate or we shouldn’t compare when someone says, ‘I will give tanks if someone else will also share his tanks.’”

Zelenskyy also said air defense was “our weakness” in light of targeted Russian strikes, including use of Iranian-made drones, and reiterated his call for supplies of long-range artillery to fire at Russian forces in Ukrainian territory — not fire into Russia itself.

For months, Ukraine has sought to be supplied with heavier tanks, including the U.S. Abrams and the German-made Leopard 2 tanks, but Western leaders have been treading carefully.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, facing increasing pressure to send battle tanks, dodged a question about the topic Wednesday, instead reiterating that Germany was one of the top suppliers of military equipment to Ukraine, providing air-defense systems and armored personnel carriers.

“We will continue to support Ukraine — for as long as necessary,” Scholz said after a speech at Davos.

The United Kingdom announced last week that it will send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, while Poland and the Czech Republic have provided Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukrainian forces.

German officials have conveyed their hesitance to allow allies to give German-made Leopards unless the U.S. also sends Ukraine the Abrams, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Poland has expressed readiness to provide a company of Leopard tanks, but has said it would only do so as part of a larger international coalition of tank aid to Kyiv.

“Get them the tanks, get Volodymyr Zelenskyy whatever he needs,” said former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who attended the breakfast.

Zelenskyy used a speech to the political leaders and corporate executives assembled in the Swiss ski resort of Davos to urge his allies not to hesitate.

“The supplying of Ukraine with air defense systems must outpace Russia’s vast missile attacks. The supplies of Western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks,” he said by video.

The Ukrainian delegation to Davos, including Zelenskyy’s wife, Olena Zelenska, has been pushing for more aid. It’s never clear how much concrete action actually emerges from a gathering where leaders and businesspeople discuss the world’s problems from climate change to a slowing economy as well as deal-making on the sidelines.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine’s Western backers this week will discuss ways to supply heavier and more advanced weapons.

“The main message there will be: more support, more advanced support, heavier weapons and more modern weapons,” Stoltenberg said of a gathering in Germany of top defense officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who work to coordinate military contributions to Ukraine.

“This is a fight for our values, this is a fight for democracy — and we just have to prove that democracy wins over tyranny and oppression,” the NATO leader added.

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Associated Press reporter Aamer Madhani in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the World Economic Forum meeting at https://apnews.com/hub/world-economic-forum.

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