Russia today warned that Germany’s decision to send dozens of modern tanks to Ukraine is ‘extremely dangerous’ and will ‘take the conflict to a new level’.
Bringing an end to a bitter row, Chancellor Olaf Scholz finally confirmed today Berlin will send its own German-made Leopard 2 tanks to the front lines and allow Nato allies to deliver some of theirs.
Russia branded the move a ‘blatant provocation’ and warned the new Nato supplies will ‘burn like all the rest’, while one raging Putin propagandist called for the German parliament to be destroyed in a nuclear strike.
And Russia’s ambassador today said: ‘This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation, and contradicts statements by German politicians about the unwillingness of the German Federation to get involved in it.’
The United States will provide 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in a deal worth $400 million, reports Bloomberg, while Berlin will initially supply 14 Leopard 2 tanks.
German soldiers carry out exercises in 2021 with the Leopard 2 battle tank which could soon be deployed in Ukraine
Ukraine had been relying on Soviet-era T-72 tanks but its military will be modernised with the shipment of Nato vehicles
Russia’s own storage facilities have around 10,200 tanks, while an estimated 3,300 have been deployed in Ukraine, with 1,640 destroyed.
Volodymyr Zelensky said he was ‘sincerely grateful’ and his officials hailed the move as a ‘punching fist’ for democracy, while Russia had warned it would cause a ‘global catastrophe’ and escalate the war beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Russia had warned the supply of more tanks would ‘leave a lasting mark’ and lead to ‘nothing good’, with fears in Moscow that the hi-tech equipment could land a devastating blow on the invading forces.
Pressure has been building for weeks on German chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government to send the tanks and allow Nato allies to do the same.
The German leader was wary of moves that could prompt Russia to escalate but he finally relented today.
He said in a statement: ‘We must always make it clear in everything we do that we are doing what is necessary and possible to support Ukraine, but that at the same time we are preventing the war from escalating into a war between Russia and Nato.’
The goal was to quickly establish two battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, the statement said, adding Germany would in a first step provide 14 tanks from military stocks.
Training Ukrainian troops how to use the armour will begin in Germany soon, and the nation will also provide logistics and ammunition, it said.
Germany will issue the appropriate transfer permits to partner countries that want to quickly deliver the German-made tanks from their stocks to Ukraine, it said.
In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: ‘I am certain that many experts understand the absurdity of this idea. The plan is disastrous in terms of technology.
‘But above all, it overestimates the potential it will add to the Ukrainian army. These tanks burn just like all the others.’
Putin propagandist Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Moscow Institute of the Middle East, told the Waldman-LINE channel that nuclear-tipped missiles should be used on the centre of German democracy.
He said: ‘German tanks with crosses on their armour will again march across Ukraine attacking Russian soldiers.
‘I have a natural reaction to this – the Soviet Union bombed Berlin in 1941. And to me this is a signal that the Reichstag, or Bundestag, which now replaces the Reichstag, simply should not remain standing any longer.
‘Flat, slightly radioactive, melted-down ground [will remain in its place].’
Meanwhile Putin’s favourite propagandist Vladimir Solovyov also ranted about the move, which he plainly sees as a significant blow to the Russian president while also being proof in Russian eyes that Germany has directly joined the war.
Putin’s favourite propagandist Vladimir Solovyov ranted over the tank move which he sees as a significant blow to Putin
Putin propagandist Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Moscow Institute of the Middle East, said nuclear-tipped missiles should be used on the centre of German democracy
Washington is expected to announce as soon as today that it will send M1 Abrams tanks (pictured)
Ukrainian soldiers are seen riding on a T-72 Soviet-era tank, used widely in the ongoing conflict, in the Donetsk region, January 20
Who is providing tanks to fight Putin?
US: Officials say Washington is poised to send at least 30 of its M1 Abrams battle tanks, reversing its previous position. The tank has a 120mm smoothbore gun.
GERMANY: Sources say chancellor Olaf Scholz has decided to send German-built Leopard 2 battle tanks, which have a 120mm smoothbore gun that is one of the most widely used in the West. He will also allow other countries to send theirs, they say.
BRITAIN: The UK government announced on January 14 that it would send a squadron, or 14, of its Challenger 2 battle tanks, which has a 120mm rifled gun.
POLAND: Warsaw has said it is ready to send up to 14 of its Leopards and has been pressing Berlin to approve the move. A source said Poland had submitted a request to Germany, which must approve re-export requests of the vehicle.
NORWAY: The Norwegian government is considering whether to send some of its Leopard tanks, newspapers reported.
FINLAND: The Finnish government has said it could donate a small number of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if a wider group of European nations also decided to do so, but said it would depend on Berlin’s approval.
FRANCE: French President Emmanuel Macron has asked his defence minister to ‘work on’ the idea of sending Leclerc battle tanks to Ukraine. Macron said that sending tanks must not escalate the situation, must take into account the time to train Ukrainians to be effective, and must not endanger France’s own security.
‘It’s time to send a clear, resolute message that we now consider Germany a direct party to the conflict, rekindling memories of WW2.
‘German tanks appearing will definitely mean we consider German territory, military bases and other sites as legitimate targets.
‘Nato wants to fight in this cunning way, pretending that it’s not fighting.
‘In your dreams! In your dreams!
‘And [German defence minister Boris] Pistorius will go down in history as an imbecile who led to Germany to become a zone of direct destruction.
‘And [chancellor] Scholz too, and [foreign minister Annalena] Baerbock.
‘The German people will know which new Nazi leaders they have raised and brought to power. That’s my subjective opinion.’
Another leading Putin propagandist, Margarita Simonyan, said Germany will send ‘gas chambers’ to Ukraine after authorising the tanks.
Alluding to the Nazi’s gas chambers during the Second World War, Simonyan wrote on Telegram: ‘Germany, after being flogged by Washington, will send 14 tanks to Ukraine.
‘Closer to summer, deliveries of gas chambers are also expected.’
One official said the tanks would be bought under an upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, which provides longer-range funding for weapons and equipment to be purchased from commercial vendors.
By law, Germany needs to agree for the tanks to be given to Ukraine, which is not a member of Nato.
‘A few hundred tanks for our tank crews… This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy,’ Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration, wrote on Telegram.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed the move today, saying: ‘Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace.’
Poland’s prime minister thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday for his decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
‘Thank you @Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz,’ Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Twitter. ‘The decision to send Leopards to Ukraine is a big step towards stopping Russia.’
In response, Putin has begun a creeping new stealth mobilisation, even while denying it is under way.
The Kremlin rejected a report emanating from US officials that a new ‘quieter’ wave of 200,000 recruits is planned.
Yet there is clear evidence of a dramatic new grab of conscripts for fighting and to work in plants to build tanks, missiles and other hardware for his war effort.
The drive was in progress before the expected tank deal, but Moscow could well use the ramp-up as justification for the mobilisation.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has decided to send the Leopards and allow other countries such as Poland to do so as well, sources said
A Western source said: ‘It is under way without any big announcements, and will increase.’
One tactic is likely to be to press teenage conscripts – who by law should not be sent to the war, only for military training – to rapidly sign up for the conflict with offers of increased salaries.
Separately, new rules will prevent men of military age driving abroad to countries such as Georgia and Kazakhstan to avoid the draft.
Drivers will have to book slots to exit the country, making it easier for authorities to veto their move abroad.
Thousands of men remain outside Russia for fear of being thrust on to Putin’s front lines, where he has suffered catastrophic losses.
Meanwhile, migrants from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – who have received Russian passports – have been suddenly prevented from leaving Russia.
Those trying to do so have been told they are ‘included on the mobilisation list’, it was reported.
In the Omsk region, a massive new training centre is being built apparently for thousands of draftees required to retrain for defence factories.
Instead of two years of training, recruits will be given crash courses of up to six months to fill labour shortages in plants essential for Putin’s war effort, reported Russian news site Readovka.
Draftee soldiers from the Novosibirsk region forced to the front line have begged their wives and sisters to protest on their behalf to the president and other officials.
Men taking new jobs in some regions, for example Kaluga near Moscow, are being ordered to show military registrations – documents they must hold by law – so employers can funnel them to the forces if ordered to do so.
Mr Zelensky, who turns 45 on Wednesday, has pressed Western allies to provide their most modern battle tanks, saying ‘the need is larger’ in his nightly video address on Tuesday.
Germany and the US have until now held back on providing heavy armour, wary of support that could give the Kremlin reason to widen the conflict.
Russia has warned that supplies of modern offensive weaponry to Ukraine would escalate the war, with some officials saying its allies were leading the world into a ‘global catastrophe’.
Deliveries of battle tanks by the US would be a ‘another blatant provocation’, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, said on Wednesday.
‘It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us,’ Antonov said in remarks published on the embassy’s Telegram messaging app.
‘American tanks will be destroyed by our military in the same way all other samples of Nato equipment are being destroyed,’ the diplomat added.
Ukraine has pleaded for months for Western tanks it says it needs to give its forces the firepower and mobility to break through Russian lines and recapture territory.
The question of whether to supply Ukraine with significant numbers of the vehicles has dominated debate among Western allies in recent days.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz stands in front of a Leopard 2 tank in October last year (file photo)
Germany has been pivotal because Leopards, fielded by 20 armies around the world, are seen as the best option for Ukraine as they are available in large numbers and are easy to deploy and maintain.
Although the US Abrams is considered less suitable due to its fuel consumption and maintenance needs, a US decision to send the tanks could make it easier for Germany – which has called for a united front among Ukraine’s allies – to allow the supply of Leopards.
Mr Scholz had decided to send the Leopards and allow other countries such as Poland to do so as well, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Spiegel magazine said Germany was planning to supply at least one company, which usually comprises 14 vehicles, of Leopard 2 A6 tanks. Some other allies intend to follow in supplying their own Leopards, it reported.
Separately, Ukraine dismissed more than a dozen senior officials in the biggest shake-up of its wartime leadership.
The European Union, which offered Ukraine the status of candidate member last June, welcomed the changes.
Among officials who resigned or were dismissed were governors of the Kyiv, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, the latter three being frontline provinces. Kyiv and Sumy were major battlefields earlier in the war.
Some of the officials who left had been linked to corruption allegations.
Ukraine has a history of graft and shaky governance and is under pressure to show it can be a reliable steward of billions of dollars in Western aid.
It comes just days after a coalition of more than 50 senior defence officials from Europe and beyond met in Germany to discuss Ukraine’s war needs, and battle tanks were a prime topic.