US and Germany prepare to send tanks to Ukraine in response to Kyiv plea

  • Ukraine says tanks will be ‘fist’ of democracy
  • Kyiv predicts Russia will push Bachmut again
  • Ukraine purges anti-corruption leadership

BERLIN/Kyiv, Jan 25 (Reuters) – The United States and Germany are ready to bolster Ukraine’s war effort with the delivery of heavy tanks, sources said, with support for Russia condemned as a “blatant provocation”.

The expected tank deliveries come as Ukraine has sacked several top officials as part of an anti-corruption drive, an issue that has become all the more important given the need to sideline Western backers.

Washington is expected to announce as early as Wednesday that it will send M1 Abrams tanks, while Berlin has decided to send Leopard 2 tanks, the sources said.

While there is no official confirmation, officials in Kyiv have lauded what they see as a potential game-changer in the 11-month-old war — even if the reported dozens of tanks are fewer than the hundreds they say.

“Having hundreds of tanks for our tank crews … it will be a real fist of democracy,” said Andriy Yermak, head of government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wrote in the telegram.

Zelensky, who turns 45 on Wednesday, again urged Western allies to supply their most modern main battle tanks, saying there was “a greater need” in a video address Tuesday night.

Until now, Germany and the United States have resisted providing heavy armor, fearing it could give the Kremlin support to justify expanding the conflict.

Russia has warned that supplying Ukraine with modern offensive weapons would escalate the war, with some officials saying its ally is leading the world into a “global catastrophe”.

Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, said on Wednesday that the delivery of the main battle tank by the United States would be “another flagrant provocation”.

“It is clear that Washington is deliberately trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” Antonov said in comments posted on the embassy’s Telegram messaging app.

“American tanks will be destroyed by our troops, just like all other samples of NATO equipment were destroyed,” Antonov said.

Since invading Ukraine, Russia has shifted its rhetoric on the war from an effort to “denazize” and “demilitarize” its neighbor to describing it as a struggle against the collective West.

Ukraine and its Western allies have called Russia’s actions unprovoked aggression.

dozens or tanks

Despite heavy losses on both sides, the front, which stretches more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) across eastern and southern Ukraine, has been largely frozen for two months. But both Russia and Ukraine are believed to be planning a new offensive.

Zelensky said Russia was stepping up its offensive against Bakhmut, an industrial town in eastern Ukraine that has been the focus of intense fighting. “They want to increase the pressure,” he said.

Analysts at the Washington-based Institute for War Research said in a report that the West “facilitated Ukraine’s inability to exploit the opportunity to pin Russian forces at Bakhmut by slow rolling or withholding weapons systems”.

Ukraine has been pleading with Western tanks for months, saying it needs to provide its forces with the firepower and mobility to break through Russian lines and retake territory.

The question of whether to supply Ukraine with large numbers of tanks has been a bone of contention among Western allies in recent days.

Germany plays a key role because the Leopard fighter jets are deployed by about 20 militaries around the world and are seen as Ukraine’s best choice because of their large numbers and ease of deployment and maintenance.

Although the US Abrams tanks were deemed less suitable due to their fuel consumption and maintenance needs, the US decision to send them to Ukraine may make it easier for Germany – which calls for a united front among its Ukrainian allies – to allow supply leopard.

Two U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington was preparing to start a process that would eventually send dozens of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Schulz has decided to send the Leopards and has given permission to other countries, such as Poland, to do the same, two sources familiar with the matter said.

“Der Spiegel” magazine said that Germany plans to provide at least one company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks, usually consisting of 14 tanks. Some other allies reportedly intend to join Germany in supplying their Leopard fighters.

Separately, Ukraine fired a dozen top officials in the biggest shakeup of its wartime leadership.

The European Union, which offered Ukraine candidate membership last June, welcomed the changes.

Among the officials who resigned or were removed were the governors of Kyiv, Sumy, Dnepropetrovsk, Kherson and the Zaporozhye region, the latter three front-line provinces. Kyiv and Sumy were the main battlegrounds in the early part of the war.

Some of the departing officials have been linked to corruption allegations.

Ukraine has a history of corruption and shaky governance, and is under pressure to show it can be a reliable steward of billions in Western aid.

Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Cynthia Osterman and Stephen Coates; Editing by Himani Sarkar

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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