Ukraine presses Germany for tanks as minister visits

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday said Germany's refusal to send his country battle tanks was costing lives as Berlin's top diplomat vowed further support during a surprise visit.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock's unannounced trip came just days after Chancellor Olaf Scholz agreed to provide to Ukraine Marder infantry fighting vehicles long sought by Kyiv in its battle against Russia's invasion.

But Berlin has so far declined to supply Ukraine with more advanced Leopard battle tanks. Kuleba, accompanying Baerbock during her visit to the eastern city of Kharkiv, pressed Germany again to send them.

The "longer it takes to make the decision, the more people will die", he said.

"I have no doubt that Ukraine will receive German Leopard tanks. I think the German government somewhere deep down understands that this decision will be made and the tanks will be transferred to Ukraine."

Baerbock, who on Tuesday became the highest-level Western official to visit Kharkiv, pledged further German support for Kyiv.

"In all parts of Ukraine, from Kharkiv to Kherson to Kyiv, people should know they can rely on our solidarity and support," she said.

She stressed that Germany will keep supplying weapons "that Ukraine needs in order to free its citizens who are still suffering under the terror of Russian occupation".

Baerbock brought with her a "further help package" of power generators, 20 million euros ($21 million) for demining and 20 million euros as financial help for the Starlink project ensuring internet access for the population.

Baerbock's visit was kept secret for security reasons and announced only as she made her way back to Berlin.

She said she wanted to get a picture of the situation on the ground and send her message of solidarity to Ukrainians.

- 'Symbol of incredible perseverance' -

Several Western leaders including Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron have visited Ukraine since Russia's invasion on February 24, 2022.

But none have travelled so far east, where swathes of territory are under Russian control.

Kharkiv has faced heavy bombardment during the war, but the frontline has moved east since a Ukrainian counter-offensive last year retook territory from Russian forces.

Baerbock called the city is a "symbol of the Ukrainians' incredible perseverance and courage", as she noted that deep traces of the destruction wrought by Russian forces were still visible "practically on every street corner".

Kharkiv was not just a city of the country's "successful counter-offensive that impressed the whole world, but it is also, unfortunately, a place of mass crimes committed by the Russian army on our territory against our people", said Kuleba.

The latest trip is Baerbock's third to the war-torn country since Russia's invasion.

In May, she became the first senior German government figure to travel to Ukraine since the conflict began.

During that visit, Baerbock announced the reopening of Germany's embassy in the country. She also visited Bucha, a town outside Kyiv where Russian troops have been accused of war crimes.