In a significant strategy shift, US defence sources said America would work with allies to transfer Soviet-made tanks. Article by Jamie Johnson in Washington and James Crisp - Europe for the Telegraph - 03.04.22.
Ukraine is set to get its first wartime delivery of tanks to help bolster its defences in the east, amid warnings that the region would see “heavy battles” following Russia’s withdrawal around Kyiv.
In a significant strategy shift, United States defence sources said America would would work with allies to facilitate the transfer of Soviet-made tanks, which Ukrainians already know how to use, to enable Ukraine to conduct long-range artillery strikes on Russian targets.
The US official did not disclose how many tanks will be sent, nor which countries they will come from. However, Poland, one of the most hawkish Nato member countries when it comes to Russia, is believed to be one possible candidate.
Warsaw recently ordered US M1A2 Abram tanks to replace its Soviet T-72 battle tanks, which will be phased out of service.
The decision is in response to a direct request from President Voldymyr Zelensky late last month to Nato leaders, including Joe Biden, for more military assistance at an emergency summit in Brussels.
He said the tanks were needed to lift the sieges on “our cities that are now dying: Mariupol, Berdyansk, Melitopol, others”.
“You can give us one per cent of all your planes, one per cent of all your tanks,” he added, in a passionate speech to Alliance leaders. “You have at least 20,000 tanks. Ukraine asked for a percent, one per cent of all your tanks to be given or sold to us!”
His demand initially received a cool response by Nato leaders, who were reluctant to supply tanks and jets for fears of escalating the conflict beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Emmanuel Macron at the time ruled out sending tanks and warplanes to Ukraine, warning that to do so would risk dragging Nato into a war with Russia, while Boris Johnson said: “Logistically at the moment, it looks very difficult both with armour and with jets.
Last month, Poland offered to provide Ukraine with 28 MiG jets, sent via an American air base in Germany, but the US pulled the plug.
Now, however, the prevailing mood in Washington has shifted to thinking that the West needs to get “on the front foot,” as one diplomat told the Sunday Telegraph.
One official told the New York Times that the transfers would begin “soon”.
The move to send tanks to Ukraine reflects the beginning of a new phase in the war as the battle for the east and south heats up following Russia’s decision to pull its troops back from around Kyiv in the north.
The withdrawal has been celebrated as a victory for the Ukrainian army, but officials believe it is part of a plan to regroup and refocus efforts on capturing territory around the Donbas region, which borders Russia.
General Sergei Shoigu, the Russian defence minister, said on Saturday that the Russian army's priority was the "liberation" of the Donbas, where two Russian-backed rebel regions broke away from Ukraine in 2014.
"Let us have no illusions - there are still heavy battles ahead for the south, for Mariupol, for the east of Ukraine," Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on Saturday.
The shift in focus has led officials to warn that Ukraine will need further help to deal with what is likely to be an even more fiercely fought phase of the war.
Russian forces aimed to "control a vast stretch of occupied territory and set up there in a powerful way,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said.
"Without heavy weapons we won't be able to drive (Russia) out.”
Military assistance from countries has largely focused on defensive equipment and weapons so far.
On Friday, the US Department of Defence announced that it would set aside $300 million in "security assistance" for Ukraine to bolster the country's defence capabilities, adding to the $1.6 billion Washington has committed since Russia invaded in late February.
The package includes laser-guided rocket systems, drones, ammunition, night-vision devices, tactical secure communications systems, medical supplies and spare parts.
"This decision underscores the United States' unwavering commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in support of its heroic efforts to repel Russia's war of choice," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
Speaking to Mr Zelensky last night, Mr Johnson congratulated Ukraine's "brave" armed forces for successfully pushing back Russian forces in a number of areas across the country.
The Prime Minister also "committed to continue to step up defensive support".
But some believe more should be done.
Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Evelyn N. Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defence for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia under Barack Obama said providing these kinds of weapons “is frankly the morally correct thing to do.”
“The media has already reported that they're going to be providing tanks. It sounds like they’ve also been addressing air defence systems. If they provide anti-ship maritime defences, that would also be critical,” she said. “What we're trying to do is provide them with equipment that they can turn around and use the next day.”
“I hope that they will be providing the fighter aircraft and I and I see no reason to publicise that. Ukraine is proving that they are 100 per cent worthy of this kind of assistance.
“In the past, we hesitated because we were afraid it would just encourage the Russians to turn around and expand either territorially or in terms of their operations.
“At this point, this kind of equipment doesn't escalate the situation and in fact, if we don't provide it to the Ukrainians, we will be frankly culpable for any failure to eject the Russians.”
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Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded for the West to send tanks to Ukraine Credit: FADEL SENNA / AFP