Russia-Ukraine war live: Moscow warns west will ‘regret’ sending military aid as Zelenskiy pleads with Germany and allies to send tanks | Ukraine

Zelenskiy pleads with Germany and allies to send tanks to Ukraine

Ukraine’s president has pleaded with Germany and western allies to send their battle tanks to Kyiv, amid speculation that Berlin would allow German-made Leopard 2s to be re-exported by other countries but not necessarily send any of its own stock.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, speaking via video link at the opening of a meeting of Ukraine-supporting defence ministers from 50 countries in Ramstein, Germany, said it was “in your power” to at least make a decision in principle to send tanks.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks via video link to allied defence ministers at Ramstein airbase in Germany on Friday.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks via video link to allied defence ministers at Ramstein airbase in Germany on Friday. Photograph: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Urgent action was necessary, the Ukrainian leader said, because “Russia is concentrating its forces, last forces, trying to convince everyone that hatred can be stronger than the world”.

It was necessary to speed up weapons supplies, Zelenskiy said, because the war with Russia amounted to a battle between freedom and autocracy.

It is about what kind of world people will live in, people who dream, love and hope.

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Leopard 2 tanks: what are they and why does Ukraine want them?

Peter Beaumont

Peter Beaumont

What is the Leopard 2?

The Leopard 2 is a German-manufactured main battle tank with a range of about 500km (311 miles). It first came into service in 1979 and has a top speed of 68km/h (42 mph). Equipped with a 120mm smooth bore gun as its main armament, it is also armed with two coaxial light machine guns.

As well as being used by the German military, Leopard 2 has been in wide service in Europe, with more than a dozen countries using the tank, as well as a number of other countries including Canada. The tanks have been deployed in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Syria (by Turkey) where several were lost to anti-tank missiles.

A Leopard 2 A7 main battle tank during a training exercise in Munster, Germany.
A Leopard 2 A7 main battle tank during a training exercise in Munster, Germany. Photograph: Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images

Why does Ukraine want them?

Ukraine has said it has an urgent need for heavier armour in its war against Russia’s invasion. Kyiv has limited availability of tanks, most of them from the Soviet or post-Soviet era.

As well as emphasising its belief that Moscow intends to launch a significant new offensive in the coming months, Kyiv and many of its allies believe that the war will end more quickly if Russia is defeated on the battlefield in Ukraine’s own counter-offensives to take back Russian occupied territory.

While Ukraine has won significant victories – in the battle for Kyiv at the begging of the war as well as in Kharkiv oblast and around Kherson in the south – it is hampered by a shortage of tanks to support its operations and faced by Russian forces increasingly fielding more modern and capable T-90s.

The widespread availability of Leopards – including in neighbouring Poland, which wants to supply them to Ukraine – makes them a good fit for Kyiv.

Ukraine has suggested it needs 300 tanks, while western analysts have suggested that 100 could probably shift the balance of the war.

So what is the problem?

Because the tanks were supplied to countries under export licenses, Germany can veto re-export, although Poland suggested on Thursday it could simply ignore Germany and export its Leopards regardless.

Germany’s own position has been conflicted. It prefers a multilateral approach on arms supply to Ukraine rather than being seen to be moving unilaterally.

Although Germany has supplied a large amount of equipment to Ukraine, including armoured cars, it has also been wrestling with its post-second world war tradition of anti-militarism. The supply of main battle tanks had been seen as problematic because of their much more obviously offensive capabilities.

Germany had tried to tie the supply of Leopards to a wider coalition that would supply other tanks, including US Abrams – a tank viewed by experts as being less suitable for the war in Ukraine because of its heavy consumption of fuel.

What is the argument against supplying the tanks?

Opponents believe that the supply of tanks would be an escalation of the involvement of Nato countries in the war, heightening the risk of the war spreading. Ukraine has said it would only use the tanks within its internationally recognised borders, while supporters say that it is Moscow that has continued to escalate the conflict, mobilising ever more troops, targeting civilian infrastructure and making veiled threats of nuclear strikes.

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