Heavy fighting continued in eastern Ukraine as the country’s foreign minister said he expected its military to receive up to 140 western-made heavy battle tanks in a “first wave” of such supplies from allies.
“I can note that in the first wave of contributions, the Ukrainian armed forces will receive between 120 and 140 western-model tanks,” Dmytro Kuleba said on Tuesday, adding that what he called the “tank coalition” of Kyiv’s allies now included 12 states.
“It is too early to name all coalition countries and their practical contributions, because some of them still have to make formal decisions, in accordance with their internal procedures,” he added.
The United States has pledged 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, Britain has promised 14 Challenger tanks and Germany has offered 14 of its Leopard tanks, while also allowing other states to transfer the German-made vehicles to Kyiv from their own military stocks.
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Poland, Finland, Norway, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands are among countries that have expressed a willingness to provide Leopards to Ukraine. Mr Kuleba said Ukraine was also “counting very much” on receiving Leclerc tanks from France.
Moscow claimed to have taken control of another village near the Kyiv-held city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, which is one of four partly occupied provinces of Ukraine that Russia says are now part of its territory following its full-scale invasion last February.
“In the Donetsk direction, volunteers of assault units supported by operational-tactical and army aviation aircraft, missile forces and artillery ... liberated the community of Blagodatnoye,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said of a village known as Blahodatne in Ukrainian.
Russia recently took the ruined salt-mining town of Soledar, just east of Blahodatne, as it tries to isolate Ukrainian forces defending Bakhmut and force them to abandon the city – a move Kyiv says it is not contemplating.
“Bakhmut continues to be one of the main directions of the enemy’s attack… Everything is being done to prevent them from blocking the movement of our units. All the necessary shells, equipment, food, and ammunition are being delivered to Bakhmut,” said Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy.
“Our command has various options for action, the command constantly monitors the enemy and for each of its actions we have a counter-action,” he added.
Kyiv says it needs tanks and other heavy weapons to ensure it can halt a predicted Russian offensive and expel the Kremlin’s invasion force from its territory, but Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said quicker and more co-ordinated action was required.
“Because sometimes good decisions, when slowed down, end up being weak,” he warned.
“We would like to involve as many countries as possible in the tank coalition to have success on the battlefield. However, this is a really complicated issue, because sometimes the situation depends not on one decision but on several. Some countries can provide training, some can provide ammunition. We need to work together,” he added.
Western powers have rebuffed growing calls from Ukraine to supply fighter jets, arguing that training for its pilots would take too long or the move would “provoke” Russia or “escalate” the conflict.
“Systematic shelling of frontline cities, accumulation of ordnance, redeployment of troops, additional forced mobilisation in Russia surely do not indicate Russia’s readiness for peace. These are direct signs of significant escalation. Therefore, weapons, weapons and more weapons for Ukraine,” tweeted Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr Zelenskiy.
“Some EU states’ representatives believe Ukraine shouldn’t be given weapons as the war will spread to Europe. But war is already in the centre of Europe… If Ukraine doesn’t get weapons war will spread to the EU as Russia won’t stop the expansion,” he added.