Commitments from the United States and Germany to send advanced battle tanks to counter Russian aggression has been hailed as “only the beginning” by a senior official in Ukraine, who said hundreds of tanks were needed, as Kyiv renewed its calls for fighter jets.
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, made the comments as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy praised the decision by western allies, urging them to provide large quantities of tanks quickly.
“The key now is speed and volumes. Speed in training our forces, speed in supplying tanks to Ukraine. The numbers in tank support,” he said in his nightly video address on Wednesday.
Joe Biden approved sending 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, after weeks of speculation. The reversal of the US’s position came after Germany confirmed it would make 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks available to Ukraine, and give partner countries its permission to re-export other tanks.
Berlin’s decision unlocks offers by Finland, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland and Norway to provide Ukraine with their own German-manufactured Leopards.
Zelenskiy celebrated the “extremely good news”, describing the US decision to send Abrams as a “very powerful step”. “There is a tank coalition. There is a decision to launch the supply of tanks for our defence. Modern tanks,” he said.
Western officials believe the provision of 100 tanks could be enough to make the difference in terms of holding ground in the event of a Russian spring offensive and then retaking territory. The first installation of Leopard 2 tanks is expected to arrive in three months.
Zelenskiy also said he had spoken to Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and called for supplies of long-range missiles and aircraft to add to the commitments by the United States and Germany.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba said he had also spoken to Poland’s foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, about fighter jets, a request that has been repeatedly put to Nato allies without success.
Yuriy Sak, whos Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, said advise fighter jets would be “the next big hurdle”. “If we get them, the advantages on the battlefield will be just immense,” he said. “It’s not just F-16s. Fourth generation aircraft, this is what we want.”
Previous calls for US-made jets have not borne fruit, but the Dutch government recently said it would consider transferring some of its 50 planes in coordination with allies. Ukraine has until now received only Soviet-era planes and spare parts for its air force.
In public statements, Washington and Berlin had denied any connection between their respective decisions on whether to send tanks, although media reports said German officials had made clear in private that the Leopards were conditional on the US making a similar commitment.
Berlin’s hesitant stance on the battle tank question had caused disquiet among its western allies, and puzzlement in Germany in recent days. Critics in Scholz’s own governing coalition accused his chancellory of being paralyzed by inner-party conflicts.
Scholz said in a statement: “This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally.”
Russia denounced the American and German initiatives as “a rather disastrous plan”. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, said: “The main thing is, this is a completely obvious overestimation of the potential [this] would add to the armed forces of Ukraine. It is yet another fallacy, a rather profound one.”
Others reacted with more fury; Sergei Nechayev, Moscow’s ambassador to Germany, said: “This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation.”
In making the announcement to send 31 Abrams tanks, Biden said, “There is no offensive threat to Russia.”
“Putin expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve,” the president said in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. “He expected our support for Ukraine to crumble with time. He was wrong … These tanks are further evidence of our enduring, unflagging commitment to Ukraine and our confidence in the skill of the Ukrainian forces.”