Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday confirmed that the UK would provide Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine during a call with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Sunak “outlined the UK’s ambition to intensify our support to Ukraine” to President Volodymyr Zelensky, in the call Downing Street confirmed, as the British prime minister said the move would include the delivery of the tanks, as well as additional artillery systems.
No 10 said the pair also reflected recent Ukrainian victories “pushing Russian troops back and compounding their military and morale issues”, as well as the “need to seize on this moment with an acceleration of global military and diplomatic support”.
Sunak and Zelensky also welcomed other international commitments in this regard, including Poland’s offer to provide a company of Leopard tanks”, a Downing Street spokesperson added.
The prime minister stressed that he and the entire British government would be working intensively with international partners to rapidly deliver the kind of support, allowing Ukraine to press their advantage, win this war and secure a lasting peace, the spokesperson added.
Later, Zelensky in a tweet said he thanked Sunak “for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners”.
Reacting to the news, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told BBC News: “As we’ve said previously, weapons supplies are legitimate targets for Russian strikes.”
Meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party have backed the government’s decision to provide Ukraine with tanks.
But shadow defence secretary John Healey criticised the government for the way it has been handling the announcements of support for Ukraine.
He said ministers “must move beyond ad hoc announcements” and set out a plan for providing military, economic and diplomatic support this year and beyond.
“As the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion approaches, this will help reassure Ukrainians that Britain will stand with them for as long as it takes and signal to Putin that things will get worse, not better, for Russia.”
According to experts, Britain has not yet officially confirmed the number of tanks it will be sending to Ukraine, but it’s believed to be about a dozen. The decision could be significant, but only if other Western nations follow.
On its own it’s unlikely to make a big difference in the war as Ukraine says it needs hundreds more tanks and armoured vehicles to retake the territories still held by Russia.
Poland has said it’s willing to send Ukraine 14 of its German-made Leopard tanks, which are in greater supply and used by a number of European Armies.
However, Germany still needs to give its approval for the re-export to Ukraine. It hasn’t so far, but is under pressure to do so.
Nor, so far, has the US supplied any of its Abrams tanks – which use the same ammunition as the Leopard. Both will be needed to make up the numbers Ukraine says it needs.
The UK’s contribution is certainly not a game-changer. But it does cross a significant psychological line.
Until now western nations have been reluctant to provide Ukraine with its most modern tanks. But western military support has slowly evolved from only providing weapons for defensive purposes – to more sophisticated weaponry. More tanks in significant numbers will help.