Pressure on Germany grew Saturday to authorize the transfer of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, even as Ukrainian officials signaled that they believed it would be only a matter of time before the German-made tanks arrived.
The pressure was coming from several quarters. In a joint statement on Twitter, the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania urged Germany to "provide Leopard tanks to Ukraine now."
They added: "This is needed to stop Russian aggression, help Ukraine and restore peace in Europe quickly. Germany as the leading European power has special responsibility in this regard."
Some Ukrainian voices were even harsher. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, said the "indecision is killing more of our people."
"You'll help Ukraine with the necessary weapons anyway and realize that there is no other option to end the war," he wrote on Twitter, adding: "Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster."
In his overnight address, Zelenskyy stressed that time was of the essence.
"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," he said in the address, adding: "The only thing worth emphasizing is the time, the delivery time. Each agreement must be implemented as quickly as possible."
Ukraine's defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said he was "optimistic" that Germany would decide to allow transfers of the Leopards and that his country's troops would begin training on the tanks in Poland in the meantime.
"Countries that already have Leopard tanks can begin training missions for our tank crews," Reznikov told Voice of America's Ukrainian service Friday. "We will start with that, and we will go from there."
Poland's Defense Ministry did not immediately confirm Reznikov's assertion, but Polish officials have been among the most vociferous voices urging Germany to clear the way for Leopards. The Polish government has said it stands ready to send some of its own, though legally it needs Germany to sign off on any such move.
Many Western defense officials meeting Friday in Germany had hoped to reach a deal on sending the German-made tanks, which are stocked by many European countries and which Ukraine sees as crucial to its war effort. But the meeting ended without a decision from Germany, which so far has resisted sending its own Leopards to Ukraine or giving other countries that have them the necessary approval to export them.
Germany has also pushed for the United States to take the lead by sending some of its most advanced battle tanks, the M1 Abrams, but criticism Saturday was largely falling on Berlin.
Ukraine's appeals for tanks and more weapons from the West have taken on greater urgency with the approach of spring, when both sides to the conflict are preparing offensives, officials have said. And Russia's recent claims to have captured the small towns of Soledar and Klishchiivka -- part of a broader push to seize the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine -- have added to the pressure.
In recent weeks, the West has pledged increasingly sophisticated weapons for Ukraine, agreeing to send Patriot missile systems and armored fighting vehicles, despite earlier fears that Russia would see the provision of those weapons as a provocation. But Western-made tanks, which are far more powerful than the fighting vehicles, have been a sticking point.
Britain last week confirmed it would send a small number of Challenger 2 tanks, as part of wider efforts to persuade other Western nations to offer similar support.
Ukraine's top military officer, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, has said his forces need at least 300 tanks and 600 infantry fighting vehicles to counter the Russians this spring. But Germany has been reluctant to send in some of its Leopard 2 tanks without Washington's pledging to send at least a token number of its M1 Abrams tanks, presenting a united front against Russia.
Washington has argued against sending Abrams tanks, saying that they use jet fuel and are difficult to maintain. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday he had no comment on whether that stance would change.
American and German officials made a point Friday of dismissing any suggestion of acrimony among the allies, though there are subtle signs of growing fissures. Austin and his German counterpart, Boris Pistorius, denied the Leopard dispute was linked to the Abrams tanks, but provided no explanation for what was stalling a deal, and emphasized that the Leopard tanks could still be sent in the near future.
Pistorius said he had ordered his ministry to begin an inventory of its Leopard tanks and to prepare to train Ukrainian soldiers in case of a future deal, noting that he would welcome similar preparations by other European countries.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been vocal about sending more weapons to Ukraine and was in Kyiv on Friday, said, using an expletive, that he was tired of the circus "surrounding who is going to send tanks and when are they going to send them."
"To the Germans: Send tanks to Ukraine because they need them. It is in your own national interest that Putin loses in Ukraine," he wrote on Twitter late Friday. "To the Biden Administration: Send American tanks so that others will follow our lead."
When asked by a reporter Friday if he supported Poland's call to send the Leopards, President Joe Biden was brief. "Ukraine is going to get all the help they need," he said.
MEMORIAL FOR CHOPPER CRASH
Zelenskyy held an emotional meeting Saturday with the families of those who died in a helicopter crash last week.
Zelenskyy spoke with family members of seven of those killed in Wednesday's crash in the Brovary area of Kyiv. The helicopter carrying Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi and other top officials slammed into a kindergarten building in the residential suburb, killing him and about a dozen other people, including a child on the ground.
Monastyrskyi, who oversaw the country's police and emergency services, was the most senior official killed since Russia invaded Ukraine. His death, along with the rest of his ministry's leadership and the entire helicopter crew, was the second major calamity in four days to befall Ukraine, after a Russian missile struck an apartment building in the southeastern city of Dnipro, killing dozens of civilians.
At the somber service in the capital city, Zelenskyy and his wife laid flowers on each of the seven coffins draped in the blue and yellow flags of Ukraine. Zelenskyy then spoke briefly with the families, as a small orchestra played a mournful adagio.
The cause of the crash isn't known, but Zelenskyy said earlier that it happened because the country is at war. That view was repeated by Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of Ukraine's parliament, speaking after the service.
"All this would not have happened if not for this terrible and undeclared war which the Russian Federation is waging against Ukraine," Stefanchuk said. "Therefore, we must remember this and not forget these people. Because for Ukraine and Ukrainians, every lost life is a great tragedy."
WAR IN 'DEADLOCK'
Russia's war in Ukraine, which started nearly a year ago, is "in a state of deadlock," with Ukrainian forces likely achieving small gains in the northeast, near the town of Kreminna, while Russian forces "have likely been reconstituting" in the eastern town of Soledar after taking it earlier in the week, the U.K. defense ministry said Saturday.
"There is a realistic possibility of local Russian advances" around Bakhmut, an eastern city whose capture would give the Kremlin a long-awaited victory after months of battlefield setbacks, the U.K. ministry said.
Fierce battles for Bakhmut have been raging and three civilians were killed by Russian shelling in that area of the eastern Donetsk region, the deputy head of Ukraine's presidential office reported on Saturday morning.
In total, five civilians were killed and 13 wounded by Russian shelling over the past 24 hours in Ukraine's east and south, where active fighting is ongoing, Kyrylo Tymoshenko said in a Telegram post.
Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks in Bakhmut and other parts of the country's embattled east overnight, the military said in a Facebook update Saturday morning.
A 60-year-old woman died after Russian shells hit her home in the northeastern Kharkiv region, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said in a Telegram update. He added that four other people were wounded in the province.
One woman was also killed in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, where Russian forces launched more than 160 shelling attacks overnight, Gov. Oleksandr Starukh reported in a Telegram post. He said that 21 cities and towns were targeted, and two other civilians sustained injuries.
Russia's defense ministry said that troops conducted an exercise to repel a mock air attack near Moscow. The ministry said the exercise used S-300 mobile surface-to-air batteries, but didn't give a precise location for the drill.
The exercise follows reports from social media that Pantsir S-1 anti-aircraft missiles had been mounted on buildings in central Moscow, including the roof of the riverside defense ministry command center. The ministry hasn't commented.
Russia's air-defense capability has come under question after drones allegedly from Ukraine attacked two air bases deep inside Russian territory.
Information for this article was contributed by Cassandra Vinograd of The New York Times and by Andrew Meldrum of The Associated Press.
Gallery: Images from Ukraine and Russia, month 11