Germany will provide Ukraine with additional military aid worth almost $3bn, including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition, the government announced ahead of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s arrival in Berlin.
German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Saturday that Berlin wanted to show, with its latest military aid package worth 2.7bn euros ($2.95bn), “that Germany is serious in its support” for Ukraine.
“Germany will provide all the help it can, as long as it takes,” he said.
Though initially slow to provide military aid to Kyiv, Germany has since become one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Ukraine, crucially giving the green light for the delivery of modern battle tanks in the form of its own Leopard 1 and 2 models, along with sophisticated anti-aircraft systems needed to fend off drone and missile attacks.
The new military aid package, first reported by German weekly Der Spiegel, includes 30 Leopard 1 A5 tanks, 20 Marder armoured personnel carriers, more than 100 combat vehicles, 18 self-propelled Howitzers, 200 reconnaissance drones, four IRIS-T SLM anti-aircraft systems and other air defence equipment.
Germany’s support comes as Ukrainian military commanders say their troops have recaptured significant territory from Russian forces near the destroyed eastern city of Bakhmut, which has become the symbolic epicentre of the struggle between Kyiv and Moscow where their forces have fought for months in bloody urban warfare.
Zelenskyy confirmed his arrival in Germany early on Sunday — his first visit since Russia launched its invasion last year — in a tweet.
“Already in Berlin,” Zelenskyy wrote in a tweet. “Weapons. Powerful package. Air defense. Reconstruction. EU. NATO. Security.”
Already in Berlin. Weapons. Powerful package. Air defense. Reconstruction. EU. NATO. Security.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 13, 2023
Zelenskyy travelled to Berlin after meeting several Italian leaders and Pope Francis in Italy on Saturday. A German Luftwaffe jet flew Zelenskyy to the German capital from Rome.
The Ukrainian leader spent 40 minutes with the 86-year-old pontiff at the Vatican after earlier meeting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
“I am very grateful to him for his personal attention to the tragedy of millions of Ukrainians,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram after his audience with the pope. He said they had also discussed the fate of “tens of thousands of children” that Kyiv says were deported to Russia, as well as his plans for peace.
The Vatican, without mentioning Russia, said the pair discussed “the humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine caused by the ongoing war” and the need for “human gestures towards the most fragile people”.
Francis has repeatedly called for peace in Ukraine and has sought to play a mediating role, although his efforts have yet to yield any results and he has faced criticism for failing to put the blame on Russia for the war.
Zelenskyy had a 70-minute face-to-face with Meloni, who has pledged Italy’s full support for Kyiv despite a history of warm ties with Moscow in her country — and among her coalition partners. In a joint press conference, Zelenskyy thanked Meloni “for helping to save lives” while detailing what he called new aggressions by Russia.
“I have not come to complain, I have come to talk about our cooperation and to thank you once again for helping us, for the sake of our country, because we want peace,” he said.
Italy has sent weapons and aid to Kyiv, although it has never disclosed exactly what it has delivered. Meloni, who visited Kyiv in February, said Saturday: “I am convinced that Ukraine will win and be reborn stronger, more proud and more prosperous than before.”
The Ukrainian leader is expected to accept the prestigious Charlemagne Prize at a ceremony on Sunday afternoon in the western German city of Aachen, the German news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
After meeting Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other senior officials at the chancellery, Zelenskyy and Scholz are expected to fly to Aachen.
The International Charlemagne Prize was awarded to both Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people in December and is now set to be handed over to the president in person.
The Charlemagne Prize, a non-monetary and largely symbolic award, was established in 1950 to celebrate efforts towards European unification.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her two colleagues received the prize last year.