After speaking to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on a call on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent his thanks to the UK after it confirmed it will provide Kyiv with Challenger 2 tanks.
Zelensky tweeted: ‘Always strong support of the UK is now impenetrable and ready for challenges. In a conversation with the Prime Minister, I thanked for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.’
Following the call a No 10 spokesperson said: ‘The leaders reflected on the current state of Russia’s war in Ukraine, with successive Ukrainian victories pushing Russian troops back and compounding their military and morale issues.
‘They agreed on the need to seize on this moment with an acceleration of global military and diplomatic support to Ukraine.’
A Challenger 2 main battle tank taking part in exercise Saif Sareea 3 in Oman (file photo)
A Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank during a Land Combat demonstration (file photo)
The spokesperson added: ‘The Prime Minister outlined the UK’s ambition to intensify our support to Ukraine, including through the provision of Challenger 2 tanks and additional artillery systems.
‘The Prime Minister and President Zelensky welcomed other international commitments in this vein, including Poland’s offer to provide a company of Leopard tanks.
‘The Prime Minister stressed that he and the whole UK Government would be working intensively with international partners to deliver rapidly the kind of support which will allow Ukraine to press their advantage, win this war and secure a lasting peace.’
It marks the first time in the war that Britain has supplied Ukraine with military tanks and it will significantly ramp up Western support.
The additional tanks could assist Ukraine in taking back territory that Russia occupies and the support comes amid hope that Zelensky will be in a position to launch a decisive counter-offensive in the early spring.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said on Saturday that the UK has committed £2.3 billion in military aid to Ukraine.
The MoD said: ‘Our commitment to Ukraine remains steadfast and we will match or exceed last year’s military support in 2023. The military aid we have donated will help Ukraine defend against air attacks, fight on land, defend their shores, and be equipped for winter.’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent his thanks to the UK after it confirmed it will provide Kyiv with Challenger 2 tanks (pictured)
Zelensky said on Friday in an address to Lithuania’s parliament that his country required ‘urgent decisions by our entire anti-war coalition’, including on the supply of tanks.
The transfer of the tank squadron may also be a major step in persuading Germany to send its much-sought after Leopard II tanks.
Europe has more than 2,000 Leopard II tanks, held by armies in 13 countries, but Berlin’s consent is needed before any of the German-made kit can be re-exported to Ukraine.
A total of 12 of Britain’s Challenger 2 tanks will be provided to Ukraine as part of the additional support, according to reports. Initially, four will be deployed to the war-torn country before another eight are sent at a later date.
Challenger 2 tanks are a source of pride for the British military and have been in operation for almost 25 years. They each weigh 62.5 tonnes and come equipped with a 120mm rifled gun and a 7.62mm chain gun.
Ukraine’s military has previously said it requires around 300 tanks from allied countries to continue its war efforts in liberating the country.
Pictured: Rishi Sunak leaves Downing Street on January 11, 2023
A Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank on manoeuvres in the Oman desert (file photo)
Former commander of 1st Royal Tank Regiment, Colonel Hamish de Bretton Gordon, previously said that the use of western tanks could ‘tip the balance’ of the war for Ukraine.
He said: ‘Strategically this sends a very firm message to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that nothing is off the table.
‘Challenger 2 and Leopard II are modern tanks. They are much better protected, more reliable, quicker.’
Earlier this week, Russia insisted that the supply of western tanks would only ‘deepen the suffering of the Ukrainian people’ and not shift the course of the conflict. At present, Russia is dependent on tanks dating back to the Cold War.
But at the top of Ukraine’s shopping list are the Leopard II battle tanks, which Germany has not yet supplied.
On Friday, France’s armed forces minister, Sébastien Lecornu, said the vehicles would be delivered to Ukraine ‘within two months’.
Other European nations who use the Leopard II tanks, including Poland and Finland, have said they are ready to provide them, but this requires approval from Germany – which holds the export licence.
Challenger 2 and Leopard II tanks were designed specifically to take on the exact same kit that Ukraine is facing.
A squadron of British Challenger 2 tanks have been on tour in Estonia this week as part of a NATO mission to offset any further Russian interference in eastern Europe. The tanks previously served with distinction in the Bosnian conflict in 1994 and the Iraq War in 2003.
Last year, the UK signed over 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Poland as part of an arrangement to assist Ukraine, by freeing up capacity for Poland to send its Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukraine.
Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, said on Wednesday during a visit to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, that a company of Leopard tanks ‘will be handed over as part of coalition-building’. He also noted that he wanted such a move to be part of a broader set of announcements, adding: ‘We want it to be an international coalition.’
Robert Habeck, the German economy minister, said on Monday that the nation had no plans to send Ukraine its Leopard II tanks, but that it ‘can’t be ruled out’ in the future.
The military contributions to Ukraine will go towards hope that Zelensky will be in a position to launch a decisive counter-offensive in the early spring. Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen stand on their tanks in Bakhmut, Donetsk region on January 13, 2023
A Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank in the Oman desert (file photo)
Last week, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Britain was open to sending Ukraine tanks and ‘will continue to evolve our support’ as Kyiv prepares ‘the next phase of their self-defence’.
Labour said it would support any decision to hand over Challenger 2 tanks and noted that such a move would help reassure Ukraine.
However, John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, said: ‘Ministers must move beyond ad hoc announcements and set out a plan for military, economic and diplomatic support through 2023 and beyond.’
The Challenger 2 announcement comes as Russia launched its first major assault in days, with missiles fired at Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine on Saturday.
In the southeastern city of Dnipro, a missile strike obliterated a section of a multistory residential building, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Telegram.
He said there were likely to be people beneath the rubble. A rescue operation was underway.
In the southeastern city of Dnipro, a missile strike obliterated a section of a multistory residential building, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office Kyrylo Tymoshenko said on Telegram
Tymoshenko said there were likely to be people beneath the rubble. A rescue operation was underway
In the northeastern Kharkiv region, Governor Oleh Syniehubov said two Russian missiles struck infrastructure again on Saturday afternoon, following a similar attack in the morning.
An infrastructure facility was also hit in the western Lviv region, according to Governor Maksym Kozytskyi.
Air raid sirens sounded across the country in the afternoon, as regional officials urged local residents to seek shelter.
Earlier in the day, explosions also rocked the capital, Kyiv.
According to Ukrainian air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat, Russia attacked Kyiv with ballistic missiles flying from the north.
It is the first assault on the Ukrainian capital since New Year’s Day.
On Saturday morning, two Russian missiles hit Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
The strikes with S-300 missiles targeted ‘energy and industrial objects of Kharkiv and the [outlying] region,’ governor Syniehubov said. No casualties have been reported so far.
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