UK and Poland confirm plans to send modern heavy tanks to Ukraine


Britain and Poland have confirmed they are planning to send modern heavy tanks to Ukraine, heaping pressure on Germany and other governments to follow suit.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak has asked defence secretary Ben Wallace to “work with partners” in the coming weeks to go “further and faster with our support for Ukraine including the provision of tanks”, Downing Street said.

Polish president Andrzej Duda said his government would send a company of German-built Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine’s army “as part of the building of an international coalition”. A company implies around 14 tanks.

The moves by London and Warsaw will ramp up pressure on Berlin to provide tanks of its own to Kyiv and to give the required approval to other governments to re-export German-built vehicles.

Ukraine says it needs 300 western tanks to be able to liberate its territory from Russian occupation. It has its own fleet of Soviet-designed tanks, including hundreds captured from Russian forces and donated T-72 models from Poland and the Czech Republic. But spare parts and ammunition for them are limited. Western battle tanks, with their superior armour and firepower, would give Kyiv new offensive capabilities.

“We are accelerating our support to Ukraine with the kind of next-generation military technology that will help to win this war,” the UK government official said. “It is clear that battle tanks could provide a game-changing capability to the Ukrainians.”

“The war is not ending,” Duda said. “Everything indicates that Russia will continue to wage a war of attrition against Ukraine.”

Britain is preparing to send its Challenger 2, a highly capable main battle tank. It would be the first modern western tank to be sent to Ukraine, but most experts say Ukraine would be better served by the Leopard 2. Thirteen European governments operate some 2,000 Leopards, providing a much larger pool for Kyiv to draw on.

Germany and the US last week agreed to send infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, which some analysts already regard as a Rubicon crossed in terms of offensive weaponry. France said it would be sending an unspecified number of AMX-10 armoured “tank killer” vehicles. Officials in Paris and some experts categorise the AMX-10 as a “light tank”.

So far, however, German chancellor Olaf Scholz has refused to send heavy tanks, fearing it would be seen as a major escalation by Moscow and potentially drag Nato into the conflict.

Scholz has said Berlin will not act alone, so its allies are trying to assemble a coalition of countries willing to send battle tanks to Ukraine. France is considering taking part, an official in Paris said.

Scholz’s government coalition partners also favour sending Leopards. Robert Habeck, the deputy chancellor from the Green party, said he would not exclude such a move.


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