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Poland asks Berlin to OK Ukraine tanks; Kyiv targets graft

| Updated: January 26, 2023 18:25:28


Poland asks Berlin to OK Ukraine tanks; Kyiv targets graft

Poland has officially requested permission from Germany to transfer its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine where they can help fight Russia's invasion, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said Tuesday.

German officials confirmed to the dpa news agency they had received the application and said it would be assessed "with due urgency." German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Sunday that Berlin, which builds the tanks, wouldn't seek to stop Poland from providing the high-tech armour to Kyiv.

The development came as Ukrainian authorities moved to crack down on alleged corruption, with almost a dozen senior officials departing Tuesday, reports AP.

Błaszczak, the Polish defence minister, appealed to Germany "to join the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks" - a reference to recent pressure on Berlin to send some of its own tanks. Germany has hesitated to take that step, despite Ukraine's pleas. The tank is adaptable to many types of combat situations.

"This is our common cause, because it is about the security of the whole of Europe!" Błaszczak tweeted.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday called for the speedy delivery of new weapons to Ukraine, where a broad battlefield stalemate is expected to give way to new offensives in the spring.

"At this crucial moment in the war, we need to provide Ukraine with heavier and more advanced systems, and we need to do it faster," Stoltenberg said Tuesday after talks with German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius in Berlin.

Polish officials have indicated that Finland and Denmark are ready to join Warsaw in sending Leopards to Ukraine. Poland wants to send a company of the tanks, which means 14 of them, but they would barely make an impression in a war that involves thousands of tanks. If other countries contribute, Warsaw reckons, the tank detachment could grow to a brigade size.

In Kyiv, meanwhile, the deputy head of Ukraine's presidential office quit Tuesday after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pledged to launch a staff shake-up amid high-level corruption allegations.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko asked to be relieved of his duties, according to an online copy of a decree signed by Zelenskyy and Tymoshenko's own social media posts. Neither gave a reason for the resignation.

Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov also resigned, local media reported, alleging his departure was linked to a scandal involving the purchase of food for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko quit, too.

In all, four deputy ministers and five regional governors were set to leave their posts, the country's cabinet secretary said on the Telegram messaging app.

With Western allies pouring billions of dollars into Ukraine to help Kyiv's fight against Moscow, Zelenskyy had pledged to weed out corruption which some observers have described as endemic. Zelenskyy came to power in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform.

Tymoshenko joined the presidential office in 2019, after working on Zelenskyy's media and creative content strategy during his presidential campaign.

Last year he was under investigation relating to his personal use of luxury cars. He was also among officials linked last September to the embezzlement of humanitarian aid worth more than $7.0 million earmarked for the southern Zaporizhzhia region. He has denied all the allegations.

On Sunday, a deputy minister was dismissed for being part of a network embezzling budget funds. Ukraine's infrastructure ministry later identified the dismissed official as Vasyl Lozynsky, a deputy minister there.

Oleksandr Kubrakov, the infrastructure minister, said Lozynsky was relieved of his duties after Ukraine's anti-corruption agency detained him while he was receiving a $400,000 bribe for helping to fix contracts related to restoring infrastructure facilities battered by Russian missile strikes.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine's focus on the war would not stop his government from tackling corruption.

"I want to be clear: There will be no return to what used to be in the past," Zelenskyy said.

The anti-corruption drive is vital if Ukraine wants to advance its application for membership of the European Union. To gain EU membership, countries must meet a detailed host of economic and political conditions, including a commitment to the rule of law and other democratic principles.

Last June, the European Union agreed Thursday to put Ukraine on a path toward EU membership, acting with uncharacteristic speed and unity to pull the embattled country further away from Russia's influence and bind it more closely to the West.

Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO, too, but the military alliance is not about to offer an invitation, in part because of the country's corruption, shortcomings in its defence establishment, and its contested borders.

In other developments:

Ukraine's presidential office said Tuesday that at least five civilians were killed and seven others were wounded in Ukraine over the previous 24 hours. One Russian rocket hit a school in eastern Ukraine, killing one person, Donetsk region Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Ukrainian TV.

Russian forces also shelled nine towns and villages in the northern Sumy region, which borders Russia, killing a young woman and wounding three other people, local Gov. Dmytro Zhyvytskyy reported on Telegram. He said the casualties all lived in the same house, which suffered a direct artillery hit.

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