Ukraine to start training with German tanks but rules out use on Russian territory

Fierce fighting and continues in east as Kyiv cites ‘optimism’ western powers will eventually give warplanes

Heavy fighting and deadly shelling continued in eastern Ukraine, as the country’s outgoing defence minister said its servicemen would start training on German-made Leopard tanks on Monday and claimed western powers would eventually provide Kyiv with warplanes.

Oleksiy Reznikov also assured allies that Ukraine would not attack Russian territory with any long-range weapons that they supply, as shelling killed at least four civilians and injured 17 and battles raged for the ruined city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

“We understand clearly how many, when and which countries will give us [Leopard tanks]. We understand clearly that ... from Monday, tank crews will start training on the Leopard outside Ukraine,” he said on Sunday.

The US agreed last month to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the UK pledged 14 Challenger tanks and Germany said it would send 14 Leopards and allow other states to transfer the same vehicles from their own military stocks.


Ukraine says 12 countries – not all of which have been named – have offered tanks and that it expects to receive 120-140 tanks in a “first wave” of deliveries. Training on the Leopards is expected to take place in Germany and Poland.

Kyiv and its allies say Russia will launch a major new offensive by spring, and Ukraine is imploring western states to send more heavy weapons as quickly as possible to ensure it can resist the new attacks and ultimately expel Moscow’s invasion force.

“Today, as regards receiving weapons, we have received [promises of] everything except planes. I can add some optimism – there will also be planes, the question is simply about which ones,” Mr Reznikov said.

The West has rebuffed Kyiv’s request for warplanes, which some states say would represent an “escalation” or “provocation” of the Kremlin, nearly a year after Russia began an all-out war on its neighbour that has killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions.

“We always tell our partners officially that we will not use weapons supplied by foreign partners to fire on Russian territory. We only fire on Russian units on temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory,” Mr Reznikov said, two days after the US for the first time agreed to send missiles with a 150km range to Kyiv’s forces.

He warned that for “symbolic” reasons, Russia may be preparing to start its new offensive this month, having begun its invasion on February 24th last year.

“It’s not logical from a military view because not all of their resources are ready, but they’re doing it anyway,” he said. “Not all of the western weaponry will arrive in time. But we are ready. We have created our resources and reserves that we are able to deploy and with which we are able to hold back the attack.”

Mr Reznikov, under pressure from a corruption scandal at his ministry, is set to be transferred to another government job, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s parliamentary bloc said on Sunday.

David Arakhamia, chief of the Servant of the People bloc, said the defence ministry would now be headed up by Kyrylo Budanov, head of the GUR military intelligence agency.

He did not say when the move would be formalised. There was no immediate comment from Mr Reznikov.

“War dictates changes in personnel policy,” Mr Arakhamia said on the Telegram messaging app. “Times and circumstances require strengthening and regrouping. This is what is happening now and will happen in the future...The enemy is getting ready for an offensive. We are getting ready to defend ourselves and return what is ours.”

Ukrainian officials said Russian shelling killed at least four civilians and injured 11 others in the Donetsk region on Saturday, and on Sunday wounded five people in the centre of the eastern city of Kharkiv and one person in the southern city of Kherson.

Kyiv said its forces were engaged in heavy fighting in the Donetsk region, especially around Bakhmut, but that the frontline was stable and under control.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s powerful Wagner mercenary group, dismissed some Russian media reports that the armed forces of Ukraine (AFU) were leaving Bakhmut.

“The AFU are not retreating anywhere. The AFU fights to the last. In northern districts of [Bakhmut], there are fierce battles for every street, every house, every stairwell,” he wrote on social media. “Of course, it’s nice that the media want the AFU to retreat, but it is not happening in northern districts [of Bakhmut], nor in southern, nor in eastern.” - additional reporting Reuters

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe