- Ukraine says the tanks will be a “blow” to democracy
- Kyiv predicts renewed Russian pressure on Bakhmut
- Ukraine clears the leadership in the fight against corruption
BERLIN/KYIV, Jan 25 (Reuters) – The United States and Germany are poised to provide a significant boost to Kyiv’s military efforts with the delivery of heavy battle tanks to Ukraine, sources said, a move Moscow condemned as an “open provocation”.
Washington is expected to announce as soon as Wednesday that it will send M1 Abrams tanks and Berlin has decided to send Leopard 2 tanks, the sources said, a policy reversal that Kyiv says will help reshape the conflict.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again pressed Western allies to provide their most advanced battle tanks, saying in an overnight video address that “discussions must end with solutions.”
Germany and the United States have so far refrained from providing heavy armor, wary of actions that could give the Kremlin reason to escalate the conflict.
Moscow has warned that supplying Ukraine with advanced offensive weapons will escalate the war, with some Russian officials warning that Kyiv’s allies are leading the world towards a “global catastrophe”. Moscow has now repeatedly said it is fighting the collective West in Ukraine.
Washington’s possible supply of battle tanks to Ukraine would be “another clear provocation” against Russia, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said on Wednesday.
“It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” Antonov said in comments posted on the embassy’s Telegram messaging app.
Two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington was ready to start a process that would eventually send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, just days after it said it would not meet Kyiv’s demands.
A third official said the U.S. commitment could total about 30 tanks delivered in the coming months.
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has decided to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow other countries such as Poland to do so as well, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Spiegel magazine, which first reported the news, said Germany plans to deliver at least one company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks, which normally consists of 14 tanks. Other allies, for example in Scandinavia, intend to agree with Germany in the supply of their Leopard tanks to Kyiv, the magazine reports.
While there was no official confirmation from Berlin or Washington, officials in Kyiv welcomed what they said was a potential battlefield game-changer in a war that is now 11 months old – even if the number of tanks is rumored to be below the hundreds of which they say they need to liberate all occupied areas.
“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews… This is what will become a real blow to democracy,” Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelensky’s administration, wrote on Telegram.
FRONT LINES FROZEN
The front lines in the war, which stretches more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) across eastern and southern Ukraine, have been largely frozen for two months despite heavy casualties on both sides. Russia and Ukraine are believed to be planning new offensives.
Zelensky said on Tuesday evening that Russia was stepping up its push towards Bakhmut, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine that has been at the center of intense fighting. “They want to increase the pressure on a larger scale,” he said.
Whether to supply Ukraine with significant numbers of modern heavy battle tanks has dominated discussions among Kyiv’s Western allies in recent days.
Berlin was key because the German-made Leopards, used by about 20 armies around the world, were considered the best option. Tanks are available in large quantities and are easy to deploy and maintain.
While the US Abrams tank is considered less suitable due to its high fuel consumption and difficulty in maintaining, the US move to send them to Ukraine could make it easier for Germany – which has called for a united front among Ukraine’s allies – to allow delivery of the Leopards .
Russian President Vladimir Putin describes the “special military operation” that began when his troops invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year as a defensive and existential battle against an aggressive and arrogant West.
Ukraine and the West call Russia’s actions an unprovoked land grab to subjugate a former Soviet republic that Moscow considers an artificial state.
Separately on Tuesday, Ukraine fired more than a dozen senior officials as part of an anti-corruption drive made all the more critical by the need to retain its Western backers.
The European Union, which offered Ukraine candidate membership status in June last year, welcomed the development.
Among the Ukrainian officials who resigned or were fired were the governors of Kyiv, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, the last three front-line provinces. Kyiv and Sumy were major battlegrounds earlier in the war.
Some, though not all, of the officials who left were linked to allegations of corruption.
Ukraine has a history of bribery and unstable governance and is under international pressure to show it can be a reliable steward of billions of dollars in Western aid.
Reports from Reuters bureaus; Written by Cynthia Osterman and Stephen Coates; Editing by Himani Sarkar
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