US and Germany approve sending battle tanks to Ukraine after pressure from Kyiv

ITV News Correspondent James Mates reports from Ukraine, where news that Germany and the US have agreed to send tanks to Kyiv has been greeted with relief

Germany and the United States will send tanks to Ukraine, the first stage of a coordinated effort by the West to provide dozens of the heavy weapons to Kyiv.

The US will send 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, senior administration officials said, reversing months of persistent arguments by the Biden administration that the tanks were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.

The German government also confirmed on Wednesday its decision to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and approve requests by other countries to do the same.

The two announcements were met by derision from Russia, with a Kremlin spokesman saying Western tanks will "burn down like all the other ones".

President Biden says the US and Europe remain 'united' in their support for Ukraine as he commits to sending American-built tanks

Berlin said it would initially provide Ukraine with one company of German-made Leopard 2 A6 tanks, which comprises 14 vehicles, from its own stocks.

German defense minister Boris Pistorius cautioned that it would take about three months for the first tanks to be deployed in Ukraine.

The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with a total of two battalions, or 88 tanks, to help Ukrainian soldiers take back territory and repel Russian forces.

Leopards are considered the best option for Ukraine because they are available in large numbers and are thought to be easier to maintain and deploy in comparison to many other tank models.

A Leopard 2A6 main battle tank in Munster, Germany. Credit: Philipp Schulze/dpa via AP, file

Ukraine has calculated it needs around 300 of the tanks, which are long-range and fire NATO standard ammunition, but this number seems out of reach at the moment.

German officials have nonetheless hailed the tank approval as a significant moment in the bitter war, which has been raging since last February.

“German-made tanks will face off against Russian tanks in Ukraine once more,” Ekkehard Brose, head of the German military’s Federal Academy for Security Policy, said.

"This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a statement.

Germany's decision paves the way for other countries such as Poland, Spain and Norway to supply their stocks of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, as they need Berlin's permission first due to export license agreements.

Berlin had previously resisted mounting pressure either to supply its own tanks or clear the way for other countries to send German-made tanks.

Meanwhile, Washington had held the belief that it would be more productive to send German Leopards than Abrams, since many allies have the former and Ukrainian troops would need less training on them.

In response the announcements from Germany and the US, president Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that the "free world is united as never before for a common goal – liberation of Ukraine".

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki thanked Mr Scholz and said: “The decision to send Leopards to Ukraine is a big step towards stopping Russia. Together we are stronger.”

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described German and US intentions with the tanks as “a rather disastrous plan.” “I am convinced that many specialists understand the absurdity of this idea,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Mr Peskov predicted “these tanks will burn down just like all the other ones. Except they cost a lot, and this will fall on the shoulders of European taxpayers,” he added.

Mr Brose admitted this was “not an easy thought” for Germany, which takes its responsibility for the horrors of World War II seriously, but concluded it was "the right decision".

A soldier walks past a line of M1 Abrams tanks. Credit: Christian Murdock/The Gazette via AP, File

One US official said the tanks would be bought under an upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, which provides longer-range funding for weapons and equipment to be purchased.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak held talks with world leaders, including President Biden and Mr Scholz, on Wednesday after the supplies were approved.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The prime minister welcomed the decisions by allies to announce major battle tank contributions and updated on the UK’s unwavering support for Ukraine, including his decision to donate a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks last week.

“This decisive, collective action would be a catalyst for other countries to follow suit, the prime minister added.

A parliamentary panel in Switzerland has also recommended waiving a law that bars countries from re-exporting Swiss armoured vehicles, weapons and other war material to Ukraine.The panel insisted that the waiver would not affect the country's neutrality. It has also been said that the move to allow such re-exportations would unlikely be a game-changer for Ukraine’s fight against Russian forces.

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Berlin and Washington had appeared until now to be resistant to commit to providing heavy armour.

Germany had previously resisted mounting pressure either to supply its own tanks or clear the way for other countries, such as Poland, to send the German-made tanks from their own stocks.

Washington had previously held the belief that it would be more productive to send German Leopards since many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the more difficult Abrams.

Front lines in Ukraine have been largely frozen for two months, with heavy losses suffered on both sides.

Military analysts believe 100 Leopard 2 tanks would make a difference to the fighting in the Donbas, where the Russian have been concentrating their forces for months.

Mr Zelenskyy has recently said that Moscow has also stepped up its push toward Bakhmut, an industrial town in eastern Ukraine that has become the site of intense fighting and a key target for Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk region.

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