Germany will supply Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 tanks and has allowed allies to send theirs too – despite threats from Russia – while the US has confirmed it will send more than 31 Abrams M1 tanks and ensure the training of the country’s troops.
The move from Germany means other countries – such as Poland and Spain – that have stocks of Leopard 2 tanks can now supply them to Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Sky News he was “very happy” and “grateful” about the Leopard 2 decision – but warned that the quantity and delivery time of the vehicles are “critical”.
“It’s not an offensive threat to Russia,” US President Joe Biden told a news conference on Wednesday after confirming tanks would be sent to Ukraine.
He said the United States and its allies “will continue to do everything possible to support Ukraine”, adding that Vladimir Putin “was wrong…we are united”.
Mr Biden said the armored capability was “critical for Ukraine” and that the United States will “train Ukrainian troops as soon as possible”, adding that Germany has “really stepped up its support” for Mr. Zelenskyy.
The United States said earlier that it would provide the training and supplies necessary to operate and operate its M1 Abrams tanks as part of its “long-term commitment we have to leaders in the defense of Ukraine,” a senior administration official said.
“In addition to the Abrams, we are also purchasing eight M88 recovery vehicles,” the official said.
It is understood that the US military aid package is worth $400m (£323m).
The US decision was made in coordination with Germany, following diplomatic conversations between the two countries.
Mr Biden also had conversations with French President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Prime Minister Giogia Meloni about support for Ukraine this morning.
Ukrainian War – latest: Russia sends warning to US about tanks
Which countries are sending tanks to Ukraine?
- The United States will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks
- Germany will send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks
- The United Kingdom has announced that it will send 14 Challenger 2 tanks
- Poland has pledged to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks
Yesterday Moscow warned Berlin that sending tanks ‘does not bode well for future relations’ – and told the US that if it allowed such a move it would be a ‘blatant provocation’.
The Russian Embassy in Berlin condemned Germany’s decision as “extremely dangerous” and an “escalation” of the conflict “towards a new level of confrontation”.
In a statement, he said that “battle tanks with German crosses will again be sent to the ‘eastern front’, which will inevitably lead to the death not only of Russian soldiers, but also of the civilian population”.
“It destroys the vestiges of mutual trust, causes irreparable damage to the already deplorable state of Russian-German relations, casts doubt on the possibility of their normalization in the foreseeable future,” he added.
Kyiv has been advocating for months for Western nations to send modern main battle tanks to give its forces the firepower and mobility it hopes will enable them to break through Russian defensive lines and retake territory occupied by Russia.
“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our abilities,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement on Wednesday. “We act in a closely coordinated manner at international level.”
Addressing the German parliament, he said there would be no ground troops or fighter jets sent to Ukraine.
Although Ukraine has stockpiles of Soviet-made tanks, President Zelensky says his forces need more, faster and deadlier weapons – especially Western tanks – to repel the Russians.
There had been a sense of frustration among some of Germany’s allies over the delay in allowing the Leopards to travel to Ukraine.
First time since WWII German tanks will fight on European soil
Siobhan Robbins of Sky in Berlin said the delay in the German Chancellor’s decision was motivated by fears he would escalate the war or cause Germany a target.
“This is the first time since World War II that German battle tanks will fight on a European battlefield,” she said.
“The Chancellor had to balance the needs of Ukraine with the security and support of the Germans.”
Recent opinion polls showed that German voters were divided on this idea.
The German decision comes after the The United Kingdom has announced that it will provide 14 Challenger 2 tankswhich was widely seen as an attempt to persuade other allies to send leopards, whose stocks are much higher across Europe.
The decision of German tanks is a big problem – here’s why
Germany is stuck in an atrocious position. On the one hand, for obvious historical reasons, he does not want to be seen in the lead against Russia. On the other hand, it happens to produce and supply a weapon that could prove crucial in Ukraine’s war against Putin.
At least that’s how German officials explained their predicament over the Leopard 2 main battle tank. Their critics during last week’s furious tank debate say that’s an excuse. It is high time for Germany to act at its geopolitical height, they say, at the forefront of European nations. With its economic prowess and standing in Europe comes responsibility and they should stop shirking it.
Either way, Germany’s decision to send Leopards, finally and painfully made, is a big deal. It will make a big difference perhaps decisively in a military sense. But geopolitically, it sends a clear, albeit belated, message to Putin that the West remains united and determined to stop him regardless of his clumsy attempts at nuclear blackmail.
The Germans are worried about military aggression because of their Nazi past. Some have worried that German tanks will roll east again to kill Russians as they did in World War II.
They were also proud of their eastward-looking Ostpolitik policy of normalizing relations with Russia and the role it played in ending the Cold War.
But critics say they’ve been confused. Tanks are sent not to attack but to defend. And the last year proved that Ostpolitik was a relic of the past or at least in urgent need of an overhaul. Their Chancellor Olaf Scholz said so in a speech when he said that Germany had reached a Zeitenwende or historic turning point.
Berlin says he did not want to be seen leading the tanks and only acted now that the United States had agreed to send them as well. But Britain had already taken the initiative by sending Challengers.
Rather than being seen as a team player acting by consensus, over the past week Germany has been dragging its feet, seemingly confused and uncertain about its role in the coalition.
This is regrettable because, in reality, Germany has given enormous sums to help Ukraine. He acted now, but the damage to his reputation is done.
“A big step towards stopping Russia”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed the decision as “the right decision of NATO allies and friends”.
“Alongside the Challenger 2s, they will bolster Ukraine’s defensive firepower. Together, we are accelerating our efforts for Ukraine to win this war and secure a lasting peace,” he said.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who was among those who criticized Germany’s reluctance, also hailed the decision as a “big step towards stopping Russia”.
Earlier this week, he said he was ready to form a “smaller coalition” of countries that would send their tanks to Ukraine anyway.
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“Puff of panic” about Russia
It comes as British intelligence suggested Russia’s most modern tank was sent to the war zone when it was not fully operational.
“In recent months, deployed Russian forces were reluctant to accept the first tranche of T-14s allocated to them because the vehicles were in such poor condition,” the UK MoD said in its latest Twitter update.
“It’s unclear exactly what aspects of the vehicles caused this reaction, but for the past three years Russian officials have publicly described problems with the T-14’s engine and thermal imaging systems.
“Therefore, it is unlikely that the deployed T-14 tanks have met the usual standards for the new equipment to be deemed operational,” the defense ministry added.
Russia was “freaked out” by Berlin’s decision and deployed its new tank to active service despite reported flaws, according to retired Air Vice Marshal Sean Bell.
“There’s just a whiff of panic in the way Russia is reacting here,” he told Sky News.
“Almost certainly because Russia realizes how decisive the issue of tanks, from Western tanks to Ukraine, could be in this conflict.”
First introduced in 1979, the Leopard 2 offers good protection against armour-piercing shells and anti-tank guided weapons.
Berlin said it planned to quickly start training Ukrainian tank crews in Germany. The package being put together will also include logistics, ammunition and maintenance.
On Sunday, the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, said: “Supplying offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime would lead to a global catastrophe.
“If Washington and NATO provide weapons that would be used to strike peaceful cities and attempt to take over our territory as they threaten to do, that would trigger retaliation with more powerful weapons.”