By ITV News Digital Content Producer Elaine McCallig
Several Nato allies have pledged to send tanks to Ukraine to bolster the fight against Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Germany and the US today said they will send tanks to Ukraine in what appears to be the first coordinated effort by the West to provide dozens of the heavy weapons to help Kyiv break combat stalemates as Russia’s invasion enters its 12th month.
It follows the UK becoming the first Nato ally to supply Ukraine with modern Western battle tanks.The donation of the tanks poses several key challenges, including moving the machinery, training the crews on the ground, and maintaining the tank over time.
Who is sending tanks to Ukraine?
Germany has committed to sending one company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks, or 14 vehicles, to Ukraine after weeks of hesitation. Chancellor Olaf Scholz also said Germany would approve requests by other countries to do the same.
The pressure on Mr Scholz mounted after Poland formally asked Germany to approve sending Leopard 2 tanks from Polish stocks to Ukraine.
The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with a total of two battalions, or 88 tanks.
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.”
Poland wants to send "a company" of Leopard 2 tanks, comprising around 10 to 14 vehicles, CNN reports.
Meanwhile, the US confirmed it will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to the warzone.
The $400 (£323) million package also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles - tank-like tracked vehicles that can tow the Abrams if it gets stuck.
There are reports that Norway will also send Leopard 2s to Ukraine, but it's not clear how many they are considering sending.
Other European nations, such as Finland, Spain and the Netherlands, indicated a willingness on Wednesday to part with their own Leopards or similar battle tanks as part of a larger coalition.
On Wednesday evening, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted: "Today the free world is united as never before for a common goal – liberation of Ukraine".
Mr Zelenskyy wants a total of 300 tanks.
Rishi Sunak spoke to Mr Scholz and US President Joe Biden as the tank announcements were made, in a group call with French president Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
The UK had already become the first Western nation to promise main battle tanks, with around 14 Challenger 2s pledged by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The latest package from the UK also includes around two dozen AS90 self-propelled guns, hundreds more armoured vehicles and precision-guided missiles, and 100,000 artillery rounds on top of the 100,000 already sent. It keeps the UK at the forefront of Kyiv’s military backers with £2.3 billion of support provided during the course of 2022, with ministers promising a similar amount this year.
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know
The UK will support the training of Ukrainian soldiers in operating and servicing the Challenger 2 tanks, and Ukrainian soldiers training to use the machines will use the same syllabus that's employed in the UK, it is understood.
The UK has also provided a significant military training programme based in the UK which has already put through 9,900 Ukrainian troops with an ambition to train 23,000 this year.
Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen explains why Germany and the US offering tanks to Ukraine is such a significant moment in the conflict
How will the tanks get to Ukraine?
It depends on where they are coming from, and of course, any level of detail is unlikely to be made public.
One thing we can safely assume is that transporting such huge vehicles will be a significant logistical operation.
Security considerations will also need to be taken into account, so concealment and dispersion may be employed to protect the tanks.
The tanks may be sent to Ukraine by any manner of transport; by rail, land, air, or sea.
Challenger 2s have previously been pictured being transported by rail, on the back of tank transporters, and even driving along the road themselves.
Huge planes such as C-17 Globemaster IIIs can carry up to 45,360kg of freight more than 5,000 miles while flying at altitudes above 35,000ft.
When will the tanks become operational?
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius cautioned that it would take about three months for the first tanks to be deployed in Ukraine.
He described the Leopard 2 as “the best battle tank in the world”. “This is an important game change, possibly also for this war, at least in the current phase,” he said. The German government said it planned to swiftly begin training Ukrainian tank crews in Germany. The package being put together would also include logistics, ammunition and maintenance.
Portugal's foreign minister told broadcaster SIC it could take two to three months before Leopard 2 tanks are fully operational.
João Gomes Cravinho said: "Ukrainian military personnel need to be trained – the Leopard are a very advanced equipment, technologically, and so that will take a few weeks, just the training process ... After that there are logistical hurdles that need to be addressed with the allies, so it’ll take two or three months.”
John Kirby, the White House's strategic communications coordinator for national security, said it will likely take the Pentagon "weeks, not months" to finalise a training plan - and get it underway - for the American tanks.
Robert B. Abrams, a retired US armour officer and four-star general, said it would likely take over a month to get everything in place.
General Abrams, who has experience in the M1 tanks - which are actually named after his father General Creighton Abrams - told the New York Times: "The time it would take to get there - to be able to build up the supply stockage, to deliver the vehicles, to train the crews, to train the mechanics, to gather everything you’d need - how long would that take?”
“I don’t know, but it ain’t like 30 days, I can tell you that.”
What has Russia said?
The expected deployment of Leopard 2s, Challenger 2s and the Abrams was dismissed by Russia, which predicted they would “burn” on the battlefields of Ukraine.
“I am convinced that many specialists understand the absurdity of this idea,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“Simply because of technological aspects, this is a rather disastrous plan.
“The main thing is, this is a completely obvious overestimation of the potential (the supply of tanks) would add to the armed forces of Ukraine. It is yet another fallacy, a rather profound one.”
Meanwhile, UK defence officials suggested that Russia’s most modern tank had been rushed to Ukraine before it is operational.
The Ministry of Defence, in its latest published intelligence update, suggested that Moscow’s most advanced tank was unlikely to be fully operational.
“Russia has worked to prepare a small number of T-14 Armata main battle tanks for the type’s first operational deployment in Ukraine,” the MoD said.
“However, in recent months, deployed Russian forces were reluctant to accept the first tranche of T-14 allocated to them because the vehicles were in such poor condition.
“It is unclear exactly what aspects of the vehicles prompted this reaction, but within the last three years, Russian officials have publicly described problems with the T-14’s engine and thermal imaging systems.
“In 2021, defence minister Sergei Shoigu described the planned production run for 2022 as only an ‘experimental-industrial’ batch.
“Therefore, it is unlikely that any deployed T-14 tanks will have met the usual standards for new equipment to be deemed operational.”
It was one of the biggest news stories of our time - and it's still not over. So what did Boris Johnson know about Downing Street’s notorious parties? With fresh revelations from our Number 10 sources, in their own words, listen to the inside story...