Ukraine’s President Calls For Jets and Long Range Missiles After Germany and the US Pledge Battle Tanks
Russia rained missiles down on Ukraine last night, the latest angry salvo in response to the news that its commanders dreaded – Germany and the United States both agreeing to supply its neighbour with battle tanks.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who had previously warned that German dithering was costing Ukrainian lives, wasted little time in upping the stakes even further.
Ukraine’s President wants the rapid delivery the German Leopard Two battle tanks, and the American M1 Abrams to thwart a Spring offensive.
Added to that he is calling on the West to support his people still further, by supplying jet fighters, long-range missiles, and more heavy artillery.
Such a move could prove decisive in the conflict, potentially enabling Ukraine to seize back Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions annexed by Russia back in September.
Recapturing those territoties – and then potentially setting its sights on the Crimea – would also likely result in Ukraine seeing off Vladimir Putin as well, since even the Russian President could not survive such a humiliation.
A day after Germany belatedly approved the deployment of its Leopard 2 battle tanks, followed swiftly by America pledging a shipment of its M1 Abrams, Ukraine’s President pressed not only for swift delivery, but also substantial numbers.
Mr Zelenskyy told the British broadcaster Kay Burley that he was “very happy” with the offer of the ranks, but stressed that the number and speed of delivery was crucial.
“I would like to say thank you to Germany, to Britain and to the United States that they made this decision,” he told Sky News.
He continued: “Overall I am very thankful to the world for the support for Ukraine. But speaking frankly, the number of tanks and the delivery time to Ukraine is critical.”
Mr Zelenskyy later told Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that “progress must be made in other aspects of our defence co-operation” – with Ukraine seeking supplies of long-range missiles and artillery.
“We must form such a tank force, such a freedom force that after it strikes, tyranny will never again rise up,” he said.
Germany agreed to approve the dispatch of its own tanks and authorised allies such as Poland and Spain to re export theirs to the Ukraine as well.
“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally.”
The move, which marks the first time German tanks have fought on European battlefield since the Second World War, comes after months of indecision, likely due to fears of the war escalating.
Russia, somewhat predictably, condemned German’s entry into the conflict as just that, adding that it was an “extremely dangerous move.”
The Russian embassy in Berlin said meant Germany was abandoning its “historical responsibility to Russia” arising from Nazi crimes in World War Two. In a statement, the embassy said that the decision would escalate the conflict to a new level.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Germany had made the “right decision”.
“The right decision by NATO Allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower,” Sunak said on Twitter. “Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace.”
The goal is to assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, the government statement said. In a first step, Berlin will provide a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks, with the training of the Ukrainian crews to begin quickly in Germany. In addition to training, the package will also include logistics, ammunition and maintenance of the systems.
The German defense minister said the Leopard tanks could be operational in Ukraine in about three months. Boris Pistorius, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said training would come first, then the tanks would be sent east.
The German army has 320 Leopard 2 tanks in its possession but does not reveal how many would be battle ready, a spokeswoman for the country’s Ministry of Defense said.
Ukraine’s President later welcomed the move, adding he hoped it would be a “green light” for other nations to supply similar heavy weaponry.
Dmitry Kuleba, a Ukraine government official, also called on other European nations with Leopard 2 tanks to also join the so-called Tank Coalition.
In a Twitter posting, a clearly jubilant Mr Kuleba said: “So the tank coalition is formed. Everyone who doubted this could ever happen sees now: for Ukraine and partners impossible is nothing. I call on all new partners that have Leopard 2 tanks in service to join the coalition and provide as many of them as possible. They are free now.”
The German-made Leopards, used by armies across Europe, are uniformly considered the best option for Ukraine as they are available in large numbers and are easy to deploy and maintain.
The United States is also poised to supply 31 M1 Abrahms tanks to Ukraine. These tanks are difficult to maintain, and heavy on fuel, but enabled Germany to present a united front.
President Jo Niden said armoured capability has been “critical for Ukraine” and the US “will train Ukrainian troops as soon as possible” – adding that Germany had “really stepped up support” of Mr Zelenskyy’s troops.
The US is also sending eight M88 recovery vehicles in a military package worth $400m (£323m).
The Russian ambassador to the US has already spoken out against American tanks joining the conflict, saying on the Telegram messaging app: “If the United States decides to supply tanks, then justifying such a step with arguments about ‘defensive weapons’ will definitely not work. He added: “It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us.”
Earlier this month, the UK announced it would send a squadron of 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine “in the coming weeks”.
Ukraine is seeing 300 battles tanks from its allies, and only time will tell if its ambitions are realised. Poland, Finland, the Netherlands and Spain are among those who have pledged tank support.