Britain pledges just 14 tanks, but with aim of prompting more transfers from Ukraine’s allies
By STEPHEN CASTLE
Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, on Monday confirmed plans to send Challenger 2 tanks and a package of other sophisticated military equipment to Ukraine, as part of wider efforts to persuade other Western nations to offer similar support.
Fourteen tanks are to be sent in coming weeks, and Britain is also planning to send around 30 large self-propelled guns known as AS90s, plus armored vehicles, drones, missiles and artillery rounds, Wallace said in a statement in Parliament.
“If we are to continue helping Ukraine to seize the upper hand in the next phase of the conflict, we must accelerate our collective effort diplomatically, economically and militarily,” Wallace told lawmakers, describing his move as Britain’s “most significant package of combat power to date.”
It was hoped that Britain’s example “will allow those countries holding Leopard tanks to donate as well,” Wallace added, appealing to the government in Germany, which has been reluctant to commit weaponry that could be used for offensive military action, or to approve transfers of such German-made weapons from countries that have bought them.
Wallace’s comment underscored that one of the main objectives in Britain’s decision to transfer the relatively small number of tanks was to spur other European nations to deploy Leopard 2 tanks, which military analysts believe would be potentially more helpful to the government in Kyiv.
Poland is thought to be ready to offer German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of an alliance of European countries, but this would require the agreement of the government in Berlin.
The British foreign secretary, James Cleverly, is scheduled to travel to the United States on Tuesday, and then to Canada, to coordinate measures to support Ukraine.
Wallace will visit Estonia this week, and then take part in talks with allies at the U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany.
British officials say that their decision to send tanks is part of a broader push to galvanize support for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and to prevent the conflict degenerating into a long and static war that could favor Russia’s military.
Zelenskyy expressed his appreciation, writing on Twitter: “Tanks, APCs [armored personnel carriers] and artillery are exactly what Ukraine needs to restore its territorial integrity.” He thanked the prime minister, the defense minister and the British people “for this powerful contribution to our common victory over tyranny.”
The government’s action had broad support in Parliament, including from the opposition Labour Party.
Some British lawmakers are frustrated that other countries have yet to follow suit. “The reason why we’re doing it is to provide political leadership and political cover, so that other countries will send their tanks as well,” Bob Seely, a Conservative Party lawmaker, told GB News. “And, primarily, this is about sending German Leopard tanks, of which there are over 3,000 in Western Europe and North America.”
“There’s still a problem in that the mood music from Berlin is that they’re not willing to send until next year, which is way too late,” Seely added.
Military experts see the Leopard 2 as critical to helping Ukraine but say that the scale of the assistance offered is crucial.
“The Leopard 2 is arguably the most successful modern Western main battle tank design,” Bastian Giegerich, director of defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, wrote in a report. By creating a pool of available tanks, he said, Western countries would be able both to replenish Ukraine’s fleet, which has suffered attrition in the conflict, and add to its capabilities.
“It is believed that for the Leopard 2 tanks to have any significant effect on the fighting, around 100 tanks would be required,” he wrote.