January 20, 2023 - Russia-Ukraine news

By Kathleen Magramo, Amy Woodyatt, Leinz Vales, Adrienne Vogt and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 8:41 p.m. ET, January 20, 2023
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2:46 p.m. ET, January 20, 2023

"No alternative" to sending tanks to Ukraine, Zelensky says

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London and Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv

(Ukraine Presidential Office)
(Ukraine Presidential Office)

After allies failed to agree on equipment supply at a summit in Ramstein, Germany, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said there is “no alternative” to sending main battle tanks to Ukraine.

“We will still have to fight for the supply of modern tanks, but every day, we make it more obvious there is no alternative to making the decision on tanks,” Zelensky said in his nightly address on Friday. “The partners are firm in their attitude. They will support Ukraine as much as necessary for our victory.”

Ukraine was strengthened after what he called a “diplomatic marathon” since his trip to Washington late in 2022, with allies supplying additional artillery, “several hundred” armored vehicles, rockets for multiple launch rocket systems and anti-aircraft weapons, Zelensky added, thanking the US for announcing its biggest defense packages yet.

“I thank President Biden, all the congressmen, all Americans who know that freedom cannot lose,” he said, also thanking European allies and Canada for stepping up their efforts to arm Ukraine this week. 

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov called the Ramstein meeting “great” despite lack of agreement among western allies on supplying Ukraine with the Leopard 2 tanks. 

He expressed confidence that Ukraine will secure more weapons and ammunition. “The Ukrainian army will receive more weapons and ammo. We will win. Evil will be defeated.”

3:43 p.m. ET, January 20, 2023

Why the Leopard 2 tanks are so important for the war in Ukraine

From CNN's Rob Picheta

A Polish Leopard 2 tank seen in Germany 2022 during a military exercise.
A Polish Leopard 2 tank seen in Germany 2022 during a military exercise. (Armin Weigel/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Germany failed to reach an agreement with its key Western allies on sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, despite growing pressure from NATO and Kyiv to step up its military aid ahead of a potential Russian spring offensive.

Leopard 2 tanks are seen as a vital, modern military vehicle that would bolster Kyiv’s forces as the war with Russia approaches the one-year mark.

But Germany has batted back claims it is dragging its feet on providing military support to Ukraine, and has called on the US to send its own tanks across the Atlantic and into Ukraine.

Why Leopard 2 tanks are so important: Thirteen European countries, including Poland and Finland, are already in possession of modern German Leopard 2 tanks, which were introduced in 1979 and have been upgraded several times since, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

Many of them have agreed to re-export some tanks to Kyiv, but require Germany’s permission. Representatives for those countries that own Leopard tanks met on the sidelines of a meeting at Ramstein air base in Germany, according to the Portuguese Ministry of Defense.

In total, there are around 2,000 Leopard 2 vehicles spread across Europe, at different levels of readiness.

Each tank contains a 120mm Smoothbore gun, and a 7.62mm machine gun. It can reach speeds of 70 km per hour, or 50 km per hour when off-road, making maneuverability one of its key features. There is also an all-around protection from threats, including improvised explosive devices, mines or anti-tank fire, according to its German manufacturer, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.

The vast number of units already based near Ukraine, and the Leopard’s relatively low-maintenance demands compared to other models, lead experts to believe the tanks could help Ukraine quickly.

Why is Germany dragging its feet on Ukraine aid? The frustration felt by some NATO members toward Germany has bolstered a narrative in some corners that Berlin has been slower than its Western counterparts in offering support to Ukraine.

Germany had been expected to announce a decision on sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine on Friday, but instead said it needed more time.

Additionally, the appointment of Boris Pistorius as Germany's new defense minister this week has raised questions given his previous stances on Russia.

Polish leader Mateusz Morawiecki cited Pistorius’ previous support for easing sanctions against Russia along with his relationship with “close associate” Gerhard Schröder. The former German chancellor was forced to give up his office at the German Parliament (Bundestag) for failing to sever his Russian business ties following Moscow’s invasion.

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1:38 p.m. ET, January 20, 2023

US Treasury will designate Wagner Group as a "transnational criminal organization," White House says 

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Katie Bo Lillis

The US Treasury Department will designate the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group as a “transnational criminal organization," National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby announced Friday.

The Treasury will also impose new sanctions next week against the group and its global allies, the White House said.

“These actions recognize the transcontinental threat that Wagner poses, including through its ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity,” Kirby told reporters at the White House, ahead of the Treasury Department announcement.

(US Government)
(US Government)

Arms from North Korea: Along with the new sanctions, the US has released newly declassified photos of Russian railcars traveling from Russia to North Korea and back in November, in what the US believes was the initial delivery of infantry rockets and missiles for use by Wagner Group in Ukraine. 

While the US does not believe the equipment has yet changed battlefield dynamics, it expects more weapons systems deliveries from North Korea to Russia, Kirby said. Russia has also been receiving equipment, including drones, from Iran, as its military supplies have dwindled over the course of the war.

“The arms transfers from (North Korea) are in direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolution,” Kirby said, adding that the US has shared its intelligence with the Security Council’s DPRK sanctions committee panel of experts. 

A senior western intelligence official echoed that assessment Friday, telling reporters that the West is “certainly concerned that North Korea might plan to expand and deliver more military equipment or to sustain those deliveries.”

Wagner's role in Ukraine: More broadly, the US assesses that tensions between the Russian Defense Ministry and Wagner are increasing as Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly relies on Wagner to carry out operations in Ukraine. There are around 50,000 Wagner Group fighters currently deployed to Ukraine, according to Kirby, including 10,000 contractors as 40,000 convicts. 

“Wagner is becoming a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian ministries,” Kirby said, and the US has intelligence suggesting that the Russian Defense Ministry “has reservations” about Wagner’s heavy recruitment from Russian prisons.


1:27 p.m. ET, January 20, 2023

Countries with German-made Leopard 2 tanks met on the sidelines of Ramstein summit

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

A Polish Leopard 2 pictured during an international military exercise in Germany in 2022.
A Polish Leopard 2 pictured during an international military exercise in Germany in 2022. (Armin Weigel/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Representatives of the countries that own the German-made Leopard 2 tank met on the sidelines of the Ukraine contact group meeting at Ramstein air base in Germany. The meeting was called by Poland and Ukraine, according to Portugal's defense ministry.

Even as Germany has not authorized such a move, Poland's Deputy Prime Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said he hopes to create a coalition of countries of countries that own these tanks in order to send them to Ukraine.

“In Ramstein, we talked also among the 15 countries that use Leopard tanks,” Błaszczak said according to a tweet by the Polish Ministry of Defense. “Our discussion was devoted to equipping Ukraine precisely with these heavy tanks.”

Błaszczak acknowledged a decision on sending the equipment to Ukraine had yet to be agreed but added “further meetings” had been arranged. “We are consistently strengthening this coalition," the official said.

Portugal, as part of the meeting, offered "training in this typology of fighting vehicle and expressed the Portuguese government’s willingness to identify, in coordination with its partners, ways of supporting Ukraine with this capacity,” its defense ministry's statement said.

Separately, Portugal also said it pledged 14 M113 armored personnel carriers to Ukraine along with eight high-power electrical generators, 120mm ammunition and medical equipment.

The ministry added that it would take part in an EU military support mission that would provide training to Ukrainian troops in Germany: Portuguese trainers will be on the ground from February to train Ukrainian soldiers on disarming explosives, combat medical assistance, nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological defense and lastly military instruction. 

12:41 p.m. ET, January 20, 2023

Top US general says it is difficult to eject Russian forces from Ukraine this year

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley attends a news conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley attends a news conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley reiterated Friday that Russia's war in Ukraine will likely "end in a negotiation" and not on the battlefield.

"From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine," Milley said at a news conference after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base.

"What can happen is a continued defense, stabilizing the front," Milley added. "I think it's possible to clearly do that. I think depending on the delivery and training of all of this equipment. I do think it's very, very possible for the Ukrainians to run a significant tactical or even operational level offensive operation to liberate as much Ukrainian territory as possible."

Prior to the key meeting on military aid for Ukraine, the Pentagon announced a $2.5 billion Ukraine security package, including for the first time Stryker armored vehicles and more Bradley fighting vehicles that could be used against any potential Russian offensive in Ukraine this spring.

12:09 p.m. ET, January 20, 2023

US defense secretary denies any link between US and German tanks in possible deal for Ukraine

From CNNs Michael Conte

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denied there was any “linkage” between the US potentially sending M1 Abrams tanks and Germany sending or allowing the transfer of Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

“I think you heard the German minister of defense say earlier today that there’s no linkage between providing M1’s [Abrams] and providing Leopards, and I think he was pretty clear about that,” Austin said at a press conference after the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein, Germany. “So this notion of unlocking, you know, in my mind, it’s not an issue.”

Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius on Friday denied any tie between the two countries' tanks. When asked about the issue during an interview with German public broadcaster ARD Thursday, Pistorius said he was “not aware of such an arrangement.”  

11:56 a.m. ET, January 20, 2023

Ukrainian presidential official expresses confidence that Ukraine will receive more military aid

From Yulia Kesaieva in Kyiv and CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

The head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak, is bullish that his country will receive all the military aid it has not yet gotten.

“We are getting stronger,” Yermak wrote in a Telegram post on Friday. “And we will get everything we have not yet received.”

Yermak’s remarks come after Germany's defense minister said there has been no decision about green-lighting German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to be sent to Ukraine during a meeting of Western allies at Ramstein Air Base. 

Other support packages were agreed to in the days leading up to and during the meeting. 

11:58 a.m. ET, January 20, 2023

Polish defense minister optimistic on Leopard tanks deliveries to Ukraine despite no decision Friday

From CNN's Antonia Mortensen and Radina Gigova

Poland's Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak delivers a statement at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday.
Poland's Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak delivers a statement at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday. (Ronald Wittek/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said Friday he remains optimistic that allies will reach an agreement on deliveries of Leopard tanks to Ukraine even though a decision still hasn't been made. 

"I see hope, because the ministers of 15 countries met today on the sidelines of today's conference and talked about it," Blaszczak told reporters at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. 

"I share the Ukrainian point of view ... hence, our Polish response to deliver equipment to Ukraine and train Ukrainian soldiers at the brigade level before the end of March," he said. 

"I am convinced that building this coalition will be successful, just as the issue of transferring Patriot systems to Ukraine was successful," Blaszczak said, adding a discussion on this subject was also raised by Poland after the incident in the village of Przewodów, near the Ukrainian border, where a missile caused an explosion and killed two civilians. 

When asked whether Poland would hand over the German-made Leopard tanks it possesses — even if Berlin did not agree — he said he would raise this issue during a meeting with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius soon. 

"Today's meeting was a very good conversation," adding that there were speeches from Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and high-level US military leadders.

"We talked about the threat of Russia's imperial activities in Europe and that we can expect another attack on Ukraine. Therefore, Kyiv should be supported so that Ukraine can resist this aggression," he said. 

During his speech at the meeting in Germany, Blaszczak said he announced Poland will provide Ukraine with additional infantry fighting vehicles and T-72 tanks.

11:41 a.m. ET, January 20, 2023

Germany is doing enough to show real leadership in Europe, US defense secretary says

When asked if Germany is doing enough to show real leadership in Europe in terms of its support of Ukraine, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, "yes, but we can all do more," including, the United States.

"Germany has contributed a lot to this campaign," he said, pointing to Germany's provision of air defense capabilities and training for soldiers.

"They have a big oar in the water like the rest of the contact group does, and they are working hand in hand with the rest of our colleagues," Austin added.

"I truly believe they will continue to be a reliable ally going forward," he told reporters Friday.

Austin's comments come as Germany faces pressure to send their Leopard tanks to Ukraine, or allow any other country with the German-made tanks in their inventory to do so.