Vowing to send a squadron of tanks to Ukraine, Britain is urging Western allies to speed up the delivery of advanced weapons to Kyiv’s war effort as fears grow that Russia will soon launch a new offensive.
This week, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley will visit the United States and Canada to discuss how the three countries can coordinate even more closely on sanctions against Russia and military aid to Kyiv. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace will travel to Estonia and Germany to meet with NATO members and other allies.
The meetings come as Britain announced on Saturday that it would send a squadron of 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. Just months ago, such help was considered taboo, fearing that this would cause Russia to escalate the war. But as Ukraine pressed its demands for weapons and advanced on the battlefield, its allies complied with more and more of its demands.
“They’ve finally accepted that it’s going to be a long war unless they step in with even more resources to hasten victory for Ukraine,” said Mick Ryan, a military strategist and retired major general in the Australian army who is a contributor at the Lowy Institute, a research institute.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that following Britain’s commitment to heavy equipment, “I expect more in the near future,” according to an interview with the publication of the German newspaper Handelsblatt on Sunday.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the aid was urgently needed so that Ukraine could take advantage of Russia being on the back foot on the battlefield due to supply problems and falling morale. Mr Sunak also sought to use the announcement to burnish Britain’s credentials as a leading backer of Ukraine’s war effort.
“As the people of Ukraine approach their second year of living under relentless Russian bombing, the Prime Minister is dedicated to ensuring that Ukraine wins this war,” a Downing Street spokesman it said in a statement on Saturday, adding that Mr. Sunak believed that “a long and static war only serves Russia’s goals.”
Mr. Sunak said Ukraine’s allies should provide all the aid, both diplomatic and military, that they planned to give Ukraine this year as soon as possible. Britain has said that in 2023 it plans to match or exceed the aid it gave to Ukraine last year.
Concerns about a new Russian offensive are growing, and one Western analyst and former NATO official, Camille Grand, said Moscow appeared to be mobilizing hundreds of thousands of new conscripts, which he said had accelerated the debate over providing Ukraine with tanks.
Kyiv has been pleading for Western tanks almost since the beginning of the war to supplement the Soviet-era and Russian-made tanks that were in Ukraine’s warehouses or delivered from other countries in Eastern Europe. These tanks quickly wear out after months of combat.
Britain’s announcement was expected to increase pressure on Germany to commit to sending its coveted Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, or at least to allow other European countries that have these German-made tanks to give them to Ukraine. Poland’s government said last week it wanted to give Ukraine some of its German tanks, although Berlin would have to allow it.
Mr. Sunak’s office said the tanks would enter the country within weeks and that more shipments of weapons and ammunition were expected to follow.
Britain will begin training Ukrainian forces in tanks and artillery in the coming days, the Prime Minister’s Office has announced. Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have been training in Britain over the past six months. Mr Wallace, the defense secretary, is due to provide further details of Britain’s support for Ukraine in the House of Commons on Monday.
Russia downplays the importance of the new equipment. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov said Monday that Western armored vehicles “cannot change anything” on the battlefield. “These tanks are burning well and will continue to burn,” he said, according to the state publication TASS Information Agency.
Lara Jakes, Egg Isabella, Castle Stefan and Ben Hubbard contributed reporting.
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