The United States and Germany have announced plans to send dozens of advanced main battle tanks to Ukraine after intense debate and pressure from NATO allies to respond positively to Kiev’s call to send as many as 300 tanks to help Russia defeat the 11-month-old to repel full-scale tanks. invasion.
Live Briefing: Russian Invasion of Ukraine
RFE/RLs Live briefing gives you all the latest developments on the ongoing invasion of Russia, the Kiev counter-offensive, Western military aid, global response and the plight of civilians. Click for all RFE/RL coverage of the war here.
Their decisions follow a British decision earlier this month to send 14 of its own Challenger 2 tanks, all of which could require months of training and other preparations.
Kiev was quick to welcome the German and American tank commitments as crucial to its victory hopes, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hastened to emphasize that “speed and volume are key now”.
In his late night speech, Zelenskiy said he had also spoken with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltengerg and pushed for the shipment of long-range missiles and aircraft.
President Joe Biden said the United States will send 31 of its highly advanced Abrams tanks in a move he says poses no offensive threat to Russia.
Moscow has warned it regards the Western supply of such tanks to its much smaller post-Soviet enemy as a dangerous provocation.
Speaking from the White House, Biden said the NATO tanks for Ukraine would help “improve their ability to maneuver in open terrain.”
He praised Berlin’s announcement hours earlier as proof that “Germany has really gone the extra mile”.
Biden added: “The expectation on the part of Russia is that we will separate, but we are fully, completely and thoroughly united.”
In addition to tanks, Washington’s aid will reportedly include eight tracked tow and recovery vehicles known as M88s.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby later said it would take “many months” for the US tanks to arrive, but that Ukraine should be ready for better weather and intensified Russian attacks.
He added that there was no indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin had any plans to attack NATO territory.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the delivery of 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, paving the way for third countries to re-export their own German-made Leopards, fearing a spring offensive by Russia and a reminder of the intense attack on Ukraine after troops were forced to withdraw from the city of Soledar.
Scholz said the decision, approved on January 25, was “the right principle” in light of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbour. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius added that the first Leopard tanks could be in Ukraine within three months.
Later, Biden and Scholz held a joint meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, in which they reportedly agreed on the need for continued military support for Ukraine and close transatlantic coordination.
Zelensky welcome soon the White House move as a “powerful decision” and “an important step on the road to victory”.
“Today the free world is united as never before for a common goal – liberation from [Ukraine]. We are moving forward,” he added.
According to the German government, Berlin’s goal is to quickly raise two battalions of Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, adding that it would provide 14 tanks from its military stocks in the first phase.
Scholz said Western allies would continue to support Ukraine, but also warned that decisions must be made in view of whether they can further fuel the conflict, which is now entering its 12th month.
“We must always make it clear in everything we do that we are doing what is necessary and possible to support Ukraine, but at the same time prevent the war from escalating into a war between Russia and NATO,” Scholz told the Bundestag. , the German lower house of parliament.
Zelensky too thanks Scholz for Germany’s “important and timely decisions”, which said they were “a green light for partners to supply similar weapons”.
Kyiv hopes this move will change the balance on the battlefield as Russia continues to put massive pressure on Ukrainian defenders in the eastern part of the country, where Ukraine was captured on January 25. confirmed that it had completely withdrawn from the strategic city of Soledar.
‘The first refueling step has been taken’ said Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, added that he hopes this will be the beginning of a “tank coalition” to meet Kiev’s needs.
Norwegian Defense Minister Bjoern Arild Gram said after the German announcement that Norway would also send tanks to Ukraine, but did not specify how many.
Poland, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway are some of the other European countries that are expected to follow suit and supply some of their Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
“Spain is ready…to deal with our allies in any way possible, whether that means sending leopards, training in the use of leopards or helping to maintain and maintain them,” Defense Minister Margarita Robles said. , without providing further details.
Pal Jonson, Sweden’s defense minister, whose entry into NATO is blocked by Turkey, told the AFP news agency his country is not “ruling out” sending Leopard 2s to Ukraine.
Germany’s announcement was quickly met with support from the West and ridicule from Moscow.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has already announced plans to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, welcomed Germany’s decision to “further strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower”.
“Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace,” Sunak said Twitter.
He later added that the West should “intensify” its support for Ukraine.
NATO’s Stoltenberg welcomed Germany’s decision “strongly”, saying it could help Kiev defeat Russia’s invading forces.
“At a critical juncture in the Russian war, these can help Ukraine defend itself, win and triumph as an independent nation,” Stoltenberg wrote. Twitter.
WATCH: As Ukrainian artillery pounds Russian positions, a military doctor said work in his field hospital is intensifying and a drone unit reported that Russia was assembling further columns of artillery. Current time correspondent Andriy Kuzakov reports from the front line.
However, Russia was angered by the decision with its ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechayev calling it “extremely dangerous”. He accused Berlin of being “prone to permanent escalation” of the conflict.
“This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of deadlock and contradicts statements by German politicians about Germany’s unwillingness to get involved,” he said, adding that “Germany, like its closest allies, , is not interested in a diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis, and leans towards its permanent escalation and boundless inflation of the regime in Kiev with more lethal weapons.”
In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the West’s policy decisions, including sending the tanks, had created a “very, very tense” security situation in Europe and for the world at large.
The BBC quoted Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, as calling the delivery of M1 Abram tanks to Ukraine a “flagrant provocation against the Russian Federation”.
He accused the United States of “inflicting a strategic defeat on us”.
In an apparent battlefield setback, Ukrainian forces acknowledged on January 25 that they had completed the withdrawal from the strategic city of Soledar in Donetsk after weeks of intense fighting with Russian forces.
The Reuters and AFP news agencies quoted a Ukrainian military spokesman as saying that the move caused soldiers to return to pre-designated positions.
“After months of heavy fighting, including in recent weeks, the armed forces of Ukraine (Soledar) left and retreated along the outskirts to prepared positions,” AFP quoted Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy as saying.
Russia claimed to have gained control of the salt mining town with a pre-war population of about 10,000 earlier this month. Soledar is about 20 kilometers from the strategic city of Bakhmut, where battles have been going on for months without either side winning.
Earlier on January 25, the Ukrainian army said Russian forces continued their offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions despite “numerous casualties”, with attacks mainly targeting Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in Donetsk, where fighting has been raging for months.