Leading Western allies of Ukraine are preparing to send tanks to Kyiv following recent Russian battlefield victories in the eastern Donetsk region.
Representatives of Ukraine’s chief Western backers will meet on Jan. 20 at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base, where they're likely to reiterate support for Kyiv and pledge continued assistance. The air base serves as a command center for both the U.S. Air Force and NATO Allied Air Command.
Last week, the UK pledged to provide Ukraine with 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks and a range of other advanced offensive equipment.
If fulfilled, it would be the first delivery of Western-made tanks to Kyiv since Moscow began its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
A Kremlin spokesman responded on Jan. 16 by saying that UK-supplied tanks would “burn” on the field and fail to turn the tide of the battle.
In Germany, the issue of sending tanks to Ukraine has proven to be a contentious one. Berlin has been slow to approve the move amid concern that it might be perceived as an escalation.
On Jan. 16, German Defense Secretary Christine Lambrecht tendered her resignation amid mounting pressure on her and her government to provide Kyiv with German-made Leopard tanks.
The following day, top German officials said the issue would top the agenda of the country’s incoming defense minister.
Berlin Under PressureThe UK has urged Germany to approve the delivery of tanks to Ukraine, saying this would allow other countries to follow suit.
“It has been reported that ... Poland is very keen to donate some Leopards, as is Finland,” UK Defense Minister Ben Wallace said on Jan. 16.
Poland and Finland have already both pledged to send Leopards, which are used by several European armies, as soon as Berlin approves the move.
“All this relies on the German government’s decisions,” Wallace said. “Not only whether the Germans will supply their own Leopards, but whether or not they’ll give permissions to others.”
On Jan. 17, Polish President Andrzej Duda, speaking at the ongoing World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, called for “a coalition of countries that will ... hand over Leopard tanks to Ukraine.”
“There are several European countries that have these tanks,” he was cited as saying by Russia’s TASS news agency. “We will be able to form at least a tank brigade for Ukraine.”
Ukraine insists that a fleet of advanced combat tanks would allow it to drive Russian troops from what it sees as “occupied” territory.
Moscow formally incorporated four regions of Ukraine into the Russian Federation in September 2022 after holding "farce" referendums. Ukraine and its Western backers staunchly reject the legitimacy of the move, which they say amounts to the illegal annexation of territory by Russia.
Russian Gains in DonetskThe debate over sending tanks to Ukraine comes amid Russian battlefield gains, especially in the eastern Donetsk region.
Late last week, Russian forces overran Donetsk’s town of Soledar and now hope to surround the nearby town of Bakhmut, a key transport hub for Ukrainian forces.
According to military experts, the fall of Bakhmut would disrupt Ukrainian supply lines and pave the way for a Russian advance on key Ukrainian positions to the northwest.
On Jan. 12, the Kremlin declared that Soledar had been “liberated” by Russian forces. Ukrainian officials still insist the town’s fate remains undecided.
Russian forces deployed in the area include elements of the Donetsk People’s Militia and the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization that's directed by the Kremlin.
On Jan. 17, Denis Pushilin, head of the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, claimed that “mopping-up” operations were underway in Soledar, which is known for its expansive salt mines.
“As for the Bakhmut [Artyomovsk in Russian] and Soledar frontlines, Wagner ... is continuing the mop-up operation in the city of Soledar,” Pushilin said in televised remarks.
According to Pushilin, Russian forces “aren’t advancing that fast” because of the need to “consolidate their positions” and “repel sporadic counterattacks” by Ukrainian forces.
The Epoch Times was unable to confirm his assertions.