UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to provide heavy tanks and artillery systems to Ukraine, drawing a swift rebuke from the Russian embassy in London.
Sunak pledged to send the 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine after speaking with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday, according to a statement from his office.
The move makes the UK the first western country to supply the heavy tanks Kyiv is calling for.
Sunak said the tanks were a sign of the UK’s “ambition to step up our support for Ukraine,” according to a readout of a phone conversation with Zelensky.
The Ukrainian leader expressed his gratitude for the UK’s military support on Twitter, saying “decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.”
The ever strong support of the UK is now impenetrable and ready for challenges. In conversation with the Prime Minister @RishiSunakI thanked for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.
— Volodymyr Zelensky (@ZelenskyyUa) January 14, 2023
Sunak’s office said the British prime minister believed “a long and static war only serves Russia’s interests.”
“UK defense and security officials believe a window has opened in which Russia is taking a back seat due to supply problems and a sharp drop in morale,” the statement said. “The Prime Minister is therefore encouraging Allies to deploy their planned support for 2023 as soon as possible to have maximum impact.”
A squadron of Challenger 2 tanks, which are battle tanks designed to attack other tanks, will go to Ukraine in the coming weeks. About 30 AS90s, which are large self-propelled guns manned by five gunners, are expected to follow, the release said.
Russia responded to the UK’s pledge by warning it would only “intensify” the conflict.
“The introduction of tanks into the conflict zone, far from bringing hostilities to an end, will only serve to intensify hostilities, generating more casualties, including among the civilian population,” the Russian embassy in London said.
Ukraine was requesting to be supplied with heavier tanks for months, including American Abrams tanks and German Leopard 2 tanks. However, some Western leaders are treading carefully.
Poland and the Czech Republic provided the Ukrainian army with Soviet-era T-72 tanks.
While Poland has also expressed willingness to provide Leopard tanks, President Andrzej Duda stressed that the move would only be possible as part of a larger international coalition of tank aid to Ukraine.
Earlier this month, France said it would send AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles, known as “light tanks” in France, to Ukraine. The US and Germany announced the same week that they would send Bradley fighting vehicles and Marder armored personnel carriers, respectively, for the first time.
The UK’s decision to provide the tanks came after Russian forces rockets were fired at the capital of Ukraine and other cities across the country on Saturday, hitting critical infrastructure.
At least 12 people were killed and more than 64 injured in the southeastern city of Dnipro, where a Russian rocket attack destroyed part of a residential building, regional governor Valentin Reznichenko said.
Seven children were among the injured, as young as three years old, he added, saying “the fate of 26 people is still unknown.”
Infrastructural facilities were also hit in the western Lviv region and northeastern Kharkiv. The capital city of Kyiv was also targeted.
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