As diplomacy hopes to subside, the US allies to provide long-term military aid to Ukraine

RAMSTEIN AIRBASE, Germany – The United States deployed 40 allies on Tuesday to provide Ukraine with long-term military aid in what could become a long battle against the Russian invasion, and Germany said it will send dozens of anti-aircraft vehicles armored. It was a major political shift for a country that had faltered for fear of provoking Russia.

The announcement of Germany, Europe’s largest economy and one of Russia’s most important Western trading partners, was one of Tuesday’s many signals indicating further escalation of the war and disappointment in diplomacy.

Germany’s switch to arms was also seen as a strong affirmation of a hardened message by the Biden administration, which said it wanted to see Russia not only defeated in Ukraine, but also severely weakened by the conflict started two months ago by President Vladimir V. Putin.

The growing flow of Western weapons into Ukraine – including howitzers, armed drones, tanks and ammunition – was also another sign that a war Putin expected would divide his Western opponents had instead brought them much closer.

“Putin never imagined that the world would rally behind Ukraine so quickly and confidently,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told civilian and uniformed officials at US Ramstein Air Base on Tuesday. , in Germany, where it summoned defense officials from 40 allied countries.

“Nobody is fooled” by “Putin’s bogus claims about the Donbas,” Austin said, referring to the eastern region of Ukraine, where Russia has recently refocused its assaults. “The invasion of Russia is indefensible, as are the Russian atrocities,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said Tuesday that the influx of heavy weapons from Western countries is effectively pushing Ukraine to sabotage peace talks with Moscow, which have shown no concrete signs of progress.

“They will continue this line by filling Ukraine with weapons,” Lavrov said after meeting in Moscow with UN Secretary General António Guterres, who was embarking on his most active diplomatic effort to stop the war. “If it continues, the negotiations will not yield any results.”

On Monday, Lavrov resurrected the specter of nuclear war, as Putin has done at least twice before. Mr. Lavrov said that while such a possibility would be “unacceptable” for Russia, the risks have increased because NATO has “engaged in a war with Russia through a prosecutor and arming that prosecutor.”

“The risks are quite considerable,” hey said in an interview with Channel One, the Russian state television network.

“I don’t want them to be disproportionate,” he said. But “the danger is serious, real, it should not be underestimated”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called Lavrov’s remarks a sign that “Moscow feels defeat in Ukraine”. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, called them “obviously useless, not constructive”.

“A nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought,” he said. “There is no reason for the current conflict in Ukraine to get to that level.”

Mr. Austin said defense officials who had assembled at Ramstein Air Base – from Australia, Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, Israel and other countries – had agreed to form what he called the Ukrainian contact group and meet monthly to make sure they “strengthen Ukraine’s long-range military”.

“We will continue to move heaven and earth,” to support the Ukrainian army, Austin said.

German Defense Minister, Christine Lambrecht, announced in the assembly that Berlin would send up to 50 armed vehicles, called Flakpanzer Gepard, designed to shoot down planes but also fire at ground targets, to Ukraine.

Although no longer used by Germany, they have been acquired by Jordan, Qatar, Romania and Brazil, where they have been deployed to defend football stadiums from potential drone attacks during international tournaments, according to manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.

The German government had previously cited a number of reasons for avoiding shipping such heavy weapons to Ukraine, including the fact that none were readily available, that training Ukrainian soldiers to operate them took a long time, and that Russia could be provoked into a more conflict. ample.

But German officials changed course under increasing pressure from the conservative opposition in Berlin and members of the ruling coalition. Germany has also supplied Ukraine with shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets and surface-to-air defensive missiles, some from old East German stocks.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who traveled with Mr. Austin to Ukraine last weekend, said on Tuesday that the United States would support the Ukrainian military in pushing Russian forces out of eastern Ukraine if that’s what. President Volodymyr Zelensky intends to do.

“If this is how they define their goals as a sovereign, democratic and independent country, that is what we will support,” Blinken said in a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

After meeting Putin in the Kremlin, Guterres said he had achieved an agreement “in principle” to allow the United Nations and the Red Cross to evacuate civilians from a vast steel plant defeated by Russia in the port of Mariupol, in south of Ukraine, where they have been locked up for days with Ukrainian fighters. But there was no evidence that the meeting had produced progress in diplomacy to end the war.

Prior to the meeting, Putin claimed that Guterres had been “misled” about the situation in Mariupol and insisted that Russia had operated viable humanitarian corridors outside the city – a claim disproved by Ukrainian officials, who say the their attempts to ferry civilians out of the city have collapsed in the face of threats from Russian forces.

Putin told Guterres that he hopes the continuation of peace talks with Ukraine will lead to “some positive results,” according to the Kremlin. But Putin said Russia will not sign a security guarantee agreement with Ukraine without a resolution of territorial issues in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, and in Donbas, where Russia has recognized two breakaway regions as independent. .

In an escalation of the war-induced east-west economic conflict, the Polish state-owned gas company said Tuesday that the Russian state-owned gas company had announced a “complete suspension” of natural gas deliveries to Poland via a major pipeline.

Poland, a NATO member and key Western arms channel in Ukraine, obtains more than 45 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and disruption of that supply could compromise its ability to heat homes and run businesses.

In addition to spreading suffering and death across Ukraine, the invasion triggered the largest exodus of European refugees since World War II.

More than five million people, 90 percent of them women and children, have already left Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, according to the United Nations. Another 7.7 million have been thrown out of their homes due to the conflict, but remain in the country.

On Tuesday, the United Nations predicted that the number of refugees could rise to 8.3 million by the end of the year and asked donors for an additional $ 1.25 billion to finance the increased humanitarian needs in Ukraine.

In another dire sign of the war’s possible fallout, the explosions rocked Transnistria, a small Moscow-backed separatist republic in Ukraine’s neighboring southwestern Moldova for the second day in a row.

It is not clear who was behind the explosions. Transnistrian authorities accused Ukraine, while Ukraine accused Russia of orchestrating the explosions.

Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu, told reporters that there were “tensions between the different forces within the regions, interested in destabilizing the situation”.

At least 12,000 Russian soldiers are stationed in Transnistria, just 25 miles from Ukraine’s main port, Odesa. Western officials have expressed concern that Putin could create a pretext to order more troops in the territory, just as he did before Russian forces moved to the Crimea and Donbas.

John Ismay reported from Ramstein Air Base, Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin and Michael Levenson from New York. Contributors to the report were Ivan Nechepurenko of Tblisi, Georgia, Michael Schwirtz of Orikhiv, Ukraine, Nick Cumming-Bruce of Geneva, Michael Crowley and Edward Wong of Washington, Matthew Mpoke Bigg of London and Cora Engelbrecht of Krakow, Poland.