The United States was expected to announce on Wednesday that it will send heavy tanks to Ukraine, and Germany has decided to do the same, sources said, a reversal that Kiev said would reform the war with Russia.
Hours before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy turned 45 on Wednesday, he urged his allies to continue supplying his troops with more than five to 15 modern tanks.
“Discussions should be concluded with decisions,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address. “Decisions about real strengthening of our defenses against terrorists. The Allies have the required number of tanks.”
Just days after Washington objected to granting Kiev’s requests, Washington was ready to begin a process that would eventually send M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine, two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday. A third official said the US pledge could deliver a total of about 30 tanks in the coming months.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had decided to send Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine and allow other countries such as Poland to do so as well, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Spiegel magazine, which first reported the news, said Germany planned to supply at least one company with Leopard 2 A6 tanks, which usually consist of 14 tanks. Other allies, for example in Scandinavia, plan to go with Germany to deliver their Leopard tanks to Kiev, the magazine said.
While there was no official confirmation from Berlin or Washington, officials in Kiev hailed what they say was a potential game changer on the battlefield in a war now 11 months old — even if rumored tank numbers fell short of their expectations.
“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews…. This will be a real fist of democracy,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskiy’s government, wrote on Telegram.
Kiev has been arguing for months for Western tanks that would give the armed forces the firepower and mobility to break through Russian defenses and recapture occupied territory in the east and south. Germany has held back, wary of moves that could escalate Moscow.
FRONT LINES FROZEN
Front lines in the war, stretching more than 1,000 kilometers (620 mi) across eastern and southern Ukraine, have been largely frozen for two months despite heavy casualties on both sides. Russia and Ukraine are widely believed to be planning new offensives.
Zelenskiy said on Tuesday evening that Russia was stepping up its advance into Bakhmut, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine where heavy fighting was taking place. “They want to increase the pressure on a larger scale,” he said.
Whether Ukraine should be provided with significant numbers of heavy modern main battle tanks has dominated discussions among Kyiv’s Western allies in recent days.
The Kremlin has said that supplying Ukraine with tanks would not help and that the West would regret its “delusion” that Kiev could win on the battlefield.
Berlin has been crucial because the German-made Leopards, deployed by some 20 armies around the world, are widely regarded as the best option. The tanks are available in large numbers and are easy to deploy and maintain.
While the US Abrams tank is considered less suitable due to its high fuel consumption and difficulty to maintain, a US move to send them to Ukraine would make things easier for Germany – which has called for a united front among Ukraine’s allies. can make to allow the provisioning of leopards.
Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the “special military operation” that began when his troops invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year, a defensive and existential struggle against an aggressive and arrogant West.
Ukraine and the West are calling Russia’s actions an unprovoked land grab to subdue a fellow former Soviet republic that considers Moscow an artificial state.
Separately on Tuesday, Ukraine fired more than a dozen senior officials as part of an anti-corruption drive made even more important by the need to keep its Western backers on the sidelines.
The European Union, which offered Ukraine candidate status last June, welcomed the development.
Among Ukrainian officials who resigned or were dismissed were the governors of Kiev, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, the last three front-line provinces. Kiev and Sumy were major battlefields earlier in the war.
Some, but not all, of the officials who left had been linked to corruption charges.
Ukraine has a history of corrupt and shaky governance and is under international pressure to show that it can be a reliable steward of billions of dollars in Western aid.
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