European countries will supply Ukraine with 100 Leopard 1A5 tanks
Three European countries announced Tuesday that they will send in the coming months 100 heavy tanks to Kyiv to help their army repel the Russian forces, which confirmed that their offensive in eastern Ukraine was being successful.
This announcement coincides with an unannounced visit, the first by German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius to Kyiv since his appointment in January.
It also comes at a time when Ukrainian leaders are urging their Western allies to speed up deliveries of heavy tanks.
Defense ministers of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark announced in a joint statement on Tuesday that Ukraine would receive no less than 100 Leopard 1A5 tanks in the coming months.
These tanks are an older version of the more advanced Leopard 2, which Western countries have also promised to donate a number of to Kyiv.
The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the three countries for their important support in the evening after meeting Pistorius.
For his part, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksich Reznikov posted on Twitter a picture showing him and Pistorius carrying a miniature model of the advanced German Leopard 2 tank, and jokingly said that “the first Leopard 2 tank arrived in Kyiv”.
The timetable for the shipment of tanks from Western countries remains unclear, and Kyiv is concerned that they may not arrive in time to fend off a looming new large-scale Russian offensive.
In this context, Russia announced on Tuesday that its offensive was taking place successfully in eastern Ukraine.
Since January, the Russian army has returned to the offensive with the support of the special forces of the Wagner Group and with the participation of hundreds of thousands of civilians who were hastily recruited.
Russia’s military efforts are concentrated, especially in the Donbas region, which it announced earlier its annexation to its territory.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a statement, after a meeting with military leaders, that the battles are currently progressing successfully in the areas of Vogledar and Bakhmut.
He mentioned the recent takeover of seven towns, including Solidar that Ukrainian forces withdrew from Solidar in January, which is adjacent to Bakhmut.
He also warned the West against any increase in its military aid to Ukraine, stressing that “such steps drag NATO countries into the conflict and could lead to an unexpected escalation”.
Observers agree that Russia is preparing to launch a major offensive at the end of winter or at the beginning of spring, aiming at least to seize the entire Donbass region, which it currently controls only part of.
“We pay maximum attention to what the occupiers are preparing,” Zelensky said Tuesday evening, noting that the Donetsk region, and the east in general is the most vulnerable point currently to hostilities.
In the event of the fall of Bakhmut, which has been witnessing intense fighting for months, this will open the way for a Russian attack on the main city of Kramatorsk in the Ukrainian-controlled Donbas.
“I mention the south less often, but it is no less strategically important,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday, at a time when the Russians are also launching an attack on Voglidar, 150 km south of Bakhmut.
The Russians are also pressuring the Ukrainians in a region of northern Donbas that Kyiv forces recaptured in September.
In the face of repeated requests from Kyiv and after procrastinating for a long time for fear of provoking an escalation with Russia, the Americans and Europeans recently decided to send dozens of heavy tanks so that Ukraine could repel the Russian forces and better organize its offensive.
However, the declared number of tanks is still less than what Kyiv requires, while the West continues to refuse to provide them with combat aircraft.
But the United States promised Ukraine weapons with a range of up to 150 kilometers, which the latter demanded in order to be able to hit Russian ammunition depots and supply lines away from the front.