Ukraine calls for more heavy armour as Germany offers 14 Leopard tanks | Ukraine

Germany’s offer of 14 Leopard tanks has prompted calls for more heavy armour by Ukraine’s government as it formally announced its forces’ retreat from the eastern town of Soledar after nine months of bloody battle.

While Kyiv lauded the decision from Berlin, along with reports the US was preparing to send its own Abrams tanks, aides to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, continued to push for further arms pledges from the west.

That appeal was expected to be partially satisfied as Berlin’s decision potentially unlocks offers made by Finland, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland and Norway to provide Ukraine with their own German-manufactured Leopard 2A6 machines.

Germany said it was yet to receive any requests with the exception of Poland for authorisation for the re-export of Leopard 2 tanks but added that others would probably make announcements about their plans in the “coming hours and days”.

In response to Berlin’s decision, Zelenskiy said he had spoken to the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and was “sincerely grateful to the chancellor and all our friends”.

Leopard 2 inventories of European and Nato countries

“German-main battle tanks, further broadening of defence support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons,” he tweeted. “Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz. Sincerely grateful to the chancellor and all our friends in Germany.”

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said: “So the tank coalition is formed. Everyone who doubted this could ever happen sees now: for Ukraine and partners impossible is nothing.

“I call on all new partners that have Leopard 2 tanks in service to join the coalition and provide as many of them as possible. They are free now.”

Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelenskiy’s office, wrote on the social media platform Telegram that a broader coalition of tanks was needed: “We need a lot of Leopards.”

Zelenskiy, who celebrated his 45th birthday on Wednesday, has previously spoken of the need for 300 tanks to provide gamechanging input to the war in Ukraine after 11 months of conflict.

Western officials believe the provision of 100 tanks could be enough to make the difference in holding ground in the event of a Russian spring offensive and then retaking territory.

A reminder of the scale of the challenge facing Ukraine’s forces came with the formal announcement from Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence of its forces withdrawal from Soledar, in the east of the Donbas region, “in order to preserve the lives of personnel”.

Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s eastern forces, said: “We have entrenched ourselves on pre-preprepared defence lines (to the west).”

Of the fighting against Russian troops in the area, which are heavily made up of soldiers from the private Wagner Group, Cherevaty claimed that Ukraine’s forces had “knocked out the maximum forces, primarily the manpower of the personnel, exhausted the enemy”.

Ukraine’s army general staff claimed on Wednesday that over the past 24 hours, their forces had killed 910 Russian soldiers.

The Russian feat may, however, move their forces a step closer to taking, or at least encircling, the city of Bakhmut. The pro-Russian Readovka news platform claimed “two or three” supply routes to the city had already been cut, although the Institute for the Study of War, a thinktank in Washington, said earlier this month they believed the strategic importance of Soledar had been exaggerated by the Kremlin.

On receipt of the decision from Berlin on the provision of heavy armour, the Kremlin downplayed the impact of the western tanks, saying that the military aid to Ukraine would “burn like all the rest” and that it was a “failed plan”.

Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, claimed the diplomatic wrangling over the deliveries of the tanks showed that Nato was divided in its support for Ukraine. “Clearly, not everything is going smoothly: it’s not going smoothly within the alliance and with the availability of tanks,” he said.

Germany had been put under heavy pressure to agree to provide Leopard 2 tanks with Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, describing the apparent dithering in Berlin as “unacceptable”.

Russia’s embassy in Berlin was not on the same wavelength as the Kremlin. A spokesperson said the decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was “extremely dangerous” and took the war “to a new level of confrontation”.