Germany, U.S., to send battle tanks to help Ukraine fight off Russia
The United States and Germany announced plans to send Ukraine dozens of advanced battle tanks, hailed by Kyiv as a potential turning point in its fight to repel Russia's invasion but denounced by Moscow as an "extremely dangerous" step.
Saying Ukraine now has a "tank coalition," President Volodymyr Zelenskiy praised the commitments and urged allies to provide large quantities of tanks quickly. "The key now is speed and volumes. Speed in training our forces, speed in supplying tanks to Ukraine. The numbers in tank support," he said in a nightly video address on Wednesday.
Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine's presidential administration, stressed in a post on the Telegram messaging app that the tank commitments so far were "only the beginning. We need hundreds of tanks."
President Joe Biden announced the U.S. decision to supply 31 M1 Abrams tanks hours after Berlin said it would provide Leopard 2 tanks.
Maintaining Kyiv's drumbeat of requests for more Western military aid, Zelenskiy said he spoke to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and called for long-range missiles and aircraft. Ukraine's allies have already provided billions in military support including sophisticated U.S. missile systems.
Washington had been wary of deploying the difficult-to-maintain Abrams but had to change tack to persuade Germany to send to Ukraine its more easily operated Leopard 2 tanks - the workhorse of NATO armies across Europe.
Biden said the tanks were needed to help the Ukrainians "improve their ability to manoeuvre in open terrain."
Germany, previously the West's holdout amid deep reluctance to export offensive weapons given its Nazi past, said it would send an initial company of 14 tanks from its own stocks and also approve shipments by allied European states.
GREATER FIREPOWER, PROTECTION
The eventual aim would be to supply Ukraine with two battalions of Leopards, typically comprising three or four companies each, the first to arrive within three or four months.
The Kyiv government has been calling for months for Western battle tanks that would give its forces greater firepower, protection and mobility to break through long-static front lines and potentially reclaim occupied territory in the east and south. Ukraine and Russia have both relied primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which have been destroyed in their hundreds in 11 months of war.
Senior U.S. officials said it would take months for the Abrams to be delivered and described the move as providing for Ukraine's long-term defence.
"There is no offensive threat to Russia (itself)," Biden said. Moscow increasingly casts the war as a perilous face-off between Russia and the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.
The German and U.S. moves definitively scrapped one of the last taboos in Western support for Ukraine: providing arms that have a mainly offensive rather than defensive purpose. The West has sought to avoid provoking nuclear power Russia.
Moscow reacted with fury to Germany's announcement. "This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation," said Sergei Nechayev, Moscow's ambassador to Germany.
Berlin said it would send further military aid to Kyiv, including air defence, heavy artillery and multiple rocket launchers.
Pledges to Ukraine from other countries that field Leopards, which Germany made in the thousands and exported to allies in NATO, multiplied this week with announcements from Poland, Finland and Norway.
Spain and the Netherlands said they were considering it. Britain offered 14 of its comparable Challenger tanks and France is considering sending its Leclercs.
Moscow says supplying modern offensive weaponry to Ukraine will only postpone Russia's inevitable victory. Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador in Washington, said deliveries of U.S. tanks would be "another blatant provocation".
Since Ukraine clawed back some territory in the summer and autumn of 2022, the war has become a bloody, deadlocked slog and Kyiv believes Western heavy weapons can restore its momentum.
UKRAINE WITHDRAWS FROM SOLEDAR
The Kyiv government acknowledged on Wednesday its forces had withdrawn from Soledar, a small salt-mining town in the east that Russia claimed to capture more than a week ago, its biggest gain for more than six months.
The town is close to Bakhmut, a larger city that has been the focus of an intense Russian assault for weeks.
The Russian-installed governor of Ukraine's Donetsk region said units of Russia's Wagner contract militia were moving forward inside Bakhmut, with fighting on the outskirts and in neighbourhoods recently held by Ukraine.
Reuters could not verify the situation there.
Since invading last February, Russia has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions from their homes and reduced entire cities to rubble.
It says its "special military operation" was necessary to stem a security threat arising from Ukraine's ties to the West, which it now portrays as seeking to destroy it. Kyiv and its allies say Ukraine never menaced Russia and the invasion is a war of aggression to subdue a neighbour and seize land.
US tanks will be ‘destroyed’ in Ukraine – Moscow
Any American battle tanks sent to Ukraine will be destroyed by Russian forces, Moscow’s ambassador to the United States has warned, after media reports said the White House now plans to supply Kiev with heavy armor despite its previous refusals.
Asked about the potential shipment of the M1 Abrams main battle tank to Ukraine, Russia’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said the move would only escalate American involvement in the conflict and goes far beyond offering “defensive weapons.”
“If a decision to transfer to Kiev M1 Abrams is made, American tanks without any doubt will be destroyed, as all other samples of NATO military equipment,” the envoy said, adding that “The Americans are constantly raising the ‘bar’ of military assistance to their puppet government.”
Though the White House previously rejected Kiev’s demands for the M1 Abrams – which was featured on a Christmas 'wish list’ circulated by Ukrainian officials around the holiday – on Tuesday multiple news outlets reported that Washington had reversed course and now intends to send the hardware after all. An announcement could come as early as this week, the reports said.
While the Pentagon had argued that the Abrams is costly to operate and maintain, and could take years to reach the battlefield, officials now believe it is necessary to agree to supply the vehicle in order to persuade Germany to allow for shipments of its own Leopard 2 battle tank, according to the New York Times. The Leopard is in use by several European militaries, with around 2,000 units stationed across the continent, though Berlin must authorize their re-export to any third country.
Ambassador Antonov noted that US officials frequently preview information in the press before confirming it on record, suggesting Tuesday’s reports about the M1 Abrams were yet another example of a deliberate leak. He added that Washington is using Ukraine as a “proxy” in order to “inflict strategic defeat on us,” claiming the US has been the true instigator of hostilities.
“If the United States decides to supply tanks, it will be impossible to justify such a step using arguments about ‘defensive weapons.’ This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation,” he said. “No one should have illusions about who the real aggressor is in the current conflict.”
Moscow has repeatedly urged against Western intervention in the conflict, arguing that the stream of military hardware pouring into Ukraine has only prolonged fighting and made a negotiated settlement impossible. Nonetheless, the Kremlin has said that no amount of foreign largesse would stop it from achieving its objectives, and pledged that all NATO weapons sent to Ukraine would “burn.”
** Russian forces strike over 70 Ukrainian artillery units in past day
Russian combat aircraft, missile troops and artillery struck over 70 Ukrainian artillery units at firing positions in the past day during the special military operation in Ukraine, Defense Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov reported on Wednesday.
"In the past 24 hours, operational-tactical aircraft, missile troops and artillery of the Russian group of forces struck 79 Ukrainian artillery units at firing positions, manpower and military equipment in 124 areas," the spokesman said.
Russian forces destroyed over 90 Ukrainian troops and two German-made self-propelled artillery guns in the Kupyansk area over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"In the Kupyansk direction, attack and army aviation aircraft and artillery of the western battlegroup inflicted damage by firepower on units of the Ukrainian army’s 14th and 92nd mechanized brigades in areas near the settlements of Masyutovka, Kupyansk and Gryanikovka in the Kharkov Region and Novosyolovskoye in the Lugansk People’s Republic," the spokesman said.
"In addition, the activity of seven Ukrainian subversive/reconnaissance groups was thwarted in areas near the settlements of Olshana and Berestovoye in the Kharkov Region and Novosyolovskoye in the Lugansk People’s Republic," he added.
In the past 24 hours, Russian forces destroyed over 90 Ukrainian troops, three armored personnel carriers, one motor vehicle and two German-made Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled artillery systems in that area, Konashenkov reported.
Russian aircraft and artillery struck Ukrainian army units in the Krasny Liman area, eliminating over 20 enemy troops and six combat vehicles over the past day, he said.
"In the Krasny Liman direction, army aviation strikes and artillery fire by the central battlegroup inflicted damage on amassed manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian army’s 95th air assault brigade and 125th territorial defense brigade," the spokesman said.
"Over 20 Ukrainian servicemen, two infantry fighting vehicles and four self-propelled howitzers (German-made Panzerhaubitze 2000, Polish-made Krab and also Msta-B and Gvozdika) were destroyed," the general specified.
Russian forces continued their successful advance in the Donetsk area, inflicting damage on the enemy over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"In the Donetsk area, units of the southern battlegroup continued successful offensive operations, striking the enemy near the settlements of Zaliznyanskoye, Dubovo-Vasilyevka, Seversk and Pobeda in the Donetsk People’s Republic, the spokesman said.
Russian forces obliterated two Ukrainian ammunition depots near the communities of Razliv and Konstantinovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic, the general said.
"The enemy’s total losses in that area in the past 24 hours amounted to 60 Ukrainian personnel killed and wounded, one armored personnel carrier, two pickup trucks and a Msta-B howitzer," Konashenkov reported.
Russian forces gained more advantageous positions in their offensive in the Zaporozhye area, eliminating over 60 Ukrainian troops in the past day, he said.
"In the Zaporozhye direction, units of the eastern battlegroup gained more advantageous frontiers and positions in their offensive operations. In the past 24 hours, they destroyed over 60 Ukrainian servicemen, three tanks, two armored combat vehicles, one motor vehicle and one D-20 howitzer," the spokesman said.
Russian forces thwarted the Ukrainian army’s attempt to cross the Dnieper River and land subversive groups on its left bank, Konashenkov said.
"In the Kherson area, artillery fire thwarted the enemy’s attempt to cross over to the left bank of the Dnieper near the settlement of Dnepryany in the Kherson Region to land subversive/reconnaissance groups there," the spokesman said.
In addition, Russian combat aircraft and artillery struck the enemy’s reserves with a strength of up to a company tactical group on the right bank of the Dnieper near the community of Nikolayevka in the Kherson Region, the general said.
"As many as 30 Ukrainian troops, three boats and two infantry fighting vehicles were destroyed," the spokesman said.
Russia’s Aerospace Forces shot down a Ukrainian Su-27 fighter jet in the Donetsk People’s Republic over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"Fighter aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces shot down a Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 plane near the city of Slavyansk in the Donetsk People’s Republic," the spokesman said.
Russian air defense forces shot down a Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopter over the past day, Konashenkov reported.
"Russian air defense capabilities shot down a Ukrainian Air Force Mi-8 helicopter near the community of Novodarovka in the Zaporozhye Region," the spokesman said.
In the past 24 hours, Russian air defense systems destroyed four Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles in areas near the settlements of Spornoye, Berestovoye, Blagoveshchenka and Kirillovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic. They intercepted four HIMARS rockets near the settlements of Pologi and Tarasovka in the Zaporozhye Region, the general specified.
In all, the Russian Armed Forces have destroyed 377 Ukrainian warplanes, 204 helicopters, 2,948 unmanned aerial vehicles, 402 surface-to-air missile systems, 7,627 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 988 multiple rocket launchers, 3,906 field artillery guns and mortars and 8,171 special military motor vehicles since the beginning of the special military operation in Ukraine, Konashenkov reported.