Britain is assessing the merits of supplying Ukraine with tanks to help the country’s armed forces fight Russia’s invasion, according to two defence sources familiar with the situation.
If a deal is done to supply Ukraine with the British Army’s Challenger 2 tanks, it would be the first time a western country has provided Ukraine with modern heavy battle tanks.
Other allies are weighing western tank deliveries. Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at the weekend he was “in negotiations aimed at creating a broader coalition of countries” to deliver western tanks to Kyiv. Jakob Kumoch, an adviser to Polish President Andrzej Duda, said Warsaw was prepared to provide “a dozen” of its German-built Leopard 2 tanks.
Most analysts think the Leopard 2 is better suited for Ukraine’s needs than the Challenger, which is operated only by the UK and Oman. Thirteen European armies operate the Leopard 2, creating a larger pool of tanks, training and maintenance facilities for Kyiv to draw on.
Western policy towards sending armoured attack vehicles, including tanks, was not being centrally co-ordinated, one western official said, but rather being formed through bilateral conversations between capitals and with decisions taken by individual countries having a domino effect.
If the UK were to send Challenger tanks, US M1 Abrams and German-made Leopard tanks would be likely to follow, the official added.
Britain has so far committed £2.3bn in military aid to Ukraine and supplied thousands of anti-tank weapons, artillery systems and missiles since Russia launched its full-scale invasion almost a year ago.
No final decision on whether to proceed with supplying the tanks had been taken, one of the people familiar with the UK discussions cautioned. Concerns remain about the complexity of the tanks and whether the Ukrainian military would be able to operate them.
“There is no point in sending them something that they can’t use,” said one of the people.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz has so far refused to provide Ukraine with Leopard tanks, fearing it could drag Nato into a war with Russia. He has said Berlin will not act unilaterally.
France last week agreed to supply Kyiv with an unspecified number of AMX-10 “tank killer” armoured vehicles, which French officials and some analysts designate as a light tank.
A US-led group of about 50 nations that are delivering military aid to Ukraine, including the UK, is due to hold its next meeting on January 20. Any announcements on supplies of new equipment could be made then, according to Sky News, which first reported news of the UK’s potential provision of Challenger 2 tanks.
The UK’s ministry of defence declined to comment specifically but said the government had “committed to match or exceed last year’s funding for military aid to Ukraine in 2023, and . . . will continue to build on recent donations with training and further gifting of equipment”.
“We have provided over 200 armoured vehicles to Ukraine to date — including Stormer vehicles armed with Starstreak missiles,” it said in a statement on Monday.
Downing Street said: “We don’t get into setting out in advance what sort of support we may or may not be providing.
“The UK has been leading in the provision of equipment and vehicles and has been playing a facilitating role in this regard.”