Britain plans to send tanks to Ukraine, Rishi Sunak has confirmed, in a move that will heap further pressure on Germany to approve a wider delivery of the vehicles this week.
In a call with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the prime minister confirmed for the first time that it was Britain’s intention to provide a small number of Challenger 2 tanks to help push back Russia’s invasion. It would make Britain the first western power to supply the Ukrainians with main battle tanks, which would be used to help train Ukrainian troops.
The move comes as Germany faces international pressure to allow the delivery of German-made Leopard 2 tanks as part of a plan by western forces to increase military aid to Ukraine. It would represent a major upgrade for Ukrainian forces.
Finland and Poland have said that they could send Leopard tanks to Ukraine. However, the move requires Berlin’s approval and diplomacy on the topic is set to take place over the coming days. The German government has said it has not yet received a formal request to re-export the tanks.
The push is taking place so that Ukrainian soldiers have sufficient training before a possible offensive in the spring. The US defence secretary Lloyd Austin will meet his German counterpart Christine Lambrecht in Berlin at the end of the week.
After a phone call between Sunak and Zelenskiy, a spokesperson for the prime minister said the offer of Challenger 2 tanks and additional artillery systems was a sign of the UK’s “ambition to intensify our support to Ukraine”.
“The prime minister and President Zelenskiy welcomed other international commitments in this vein, including Poland’s offer to provide a company of Leopard tanks. The prime minister stressed that he and the whole UK government would be working intensively with international partners to deliver rapidly the kind of support which will allow Ukraine to press their advantage, win this war and secure a lasting peace.
“The leaders reflected on the current state of Russia’s war in Ukraine, with successive Ukrainian victories pushing Russian troops back and compounding their military and morale issues. They agreed on the need to seize on this moment with an acceleration of global military and diplomatic support to Ukraine.”
Zelenskiy said on Twitter that the move would “not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners”.
Labour gave its support. “Modern tanks are crucial to Ukraine’s efforts to win its battle against Russian aggression,” said John Healey, the shadow defence secretary. “But ministers must move beyond ad hoc announcements and set out a plan for military, economic and diplomatic support through 2023 and beyond.”
Recent increases in military aid have been announced this year. Last week, the US and Germany said they would provide 50 Bradley and 40 Marder fighting vehicles respectively. France also said it would provide a number of light AMX-10 RC armoured vehicles in what appeared to be coordinated announcements.