US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday that the US plans to deliver Abrams tanks to Germany in the coming weeks to train Ukrainian soldiers, reported dpa.
Austin was meeting Western allies of the Ukraine Contact Group at the US military air base of Ramstein in Germany, with arms deliveries to Ukraine being the focal point of discussion.
The training, which had previously been reported on by US media but was confirmed by Austin, is to take place at the military training area of Grafenwoehr in southern Germany. It is set to last around 10 weeks, with about 250 Ukrainian soldiers set to be trained, according to the reports.
US Chief of Staff Mark Milley, also in Ramstein, said that training tanks no longer suitable for combat will be delivered first. The Abrams tanks intended for Ukraine are still in the process of being repaired.
Austin said that the delivery of the tanks had been expedited. The Pentagon recently announced that the tanks would only be delivered in the autumn.
The long-awaited decision to send 31 US tanks to Ukraine was made back in January, in conjunction with Germany's drawn-out decision on whether or not to send Kiev Leopard main battle tanks.
As at the three previous in-person meetings at Ramstein, representatives of non-NATO states also attended. In all, high-profile representatives of around 50 nations were present.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius also made promises to Ukraine.
German Leopard tanks damaged in the Ukraine war are set to be repaired in Poland from now on, to ensure their quick return to the front, he said on Friday.
The new repair centre would be coordinated between Warsaw and Kiev.
"This is to ensure that the tanks can be maintained and repaired if necessary — and the demand will increase," said Pistorius. The leaders are to set up a joint fund to finance the project and "fairly share" the annual costs of €150 million ($164.61 million) to €200 million.
The centre will likely begin operations at the end of May, with the first working session on the project set to begin next week.
Pistorius said the initiative shows the determination of Ukraine's partners to continue supporting the country in its war with Russia.
He also announced that over 100 Ukrainian soldiers would begin their training on how to operate Leopard 1 tanks on Saturday.
Latvia said on Friday it would hand over all Stinger anti-aircraft missiles it still has on hand to Ukraine.
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares told Germany's Funke media group that Madrid will deliver six of the 10 Leopard 2 battle tanks it pledged to Ukraine within days.
Secretary Austin had rallied Western partners to further support Ukraine during his opening remarks at the meeting earlier on Friday.
"Ukraine urgently needs our help to shield its citizens and infrastructure and forces from Russia's missile threat," he said, adding that Ukraine would be supported for as long as necessary.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been pushing his Western allies to supply Ukraine with fighter jets and air defence systems in particular.
Ukraine has so far received Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets, but is looking for Western-designed aircraft such as US-built F-16s.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov wrote on Twitter on Thursday that acquiring "NATO-style fighter jets" was Ukraine's "top priority."
Both Pistorius and NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg made it clear at the meeting on Friday that the discussion on further arms deliveries was currently more important than plans for Ukraine to join NATO.
"What matters most now is that Ukraine wins," Stoltenberg said in Ramstein. "Because if Ukraine does not assert itself as a sovereign independent nation in Europe, then there is no point in discussing membership."
One prerequisite for joining NATO is not being involved in international conflicts.
Zelensky accepted NATO's invitation to attend a summit of the alliance on July 11-12 in Lithuania, said Stoltenberg.
The NATO leader promised his support for Ukraine's entry into the military alliance during his surprise visit to Kiev on Thursday.
On Friday, Russia criticized Stoltenberg's visit to Kiev and used it as further justification for its war against Ukraine.
"NATO is obviously continuing its course of engulfing Ukraine and drawing it into the alliance," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to the Interfax news agency.
Referring to the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Peskov added: "All this once again shows anyone who has at least a little thinking power the correctness of the president's decision to start this operation."