UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to supply Ukraine with heavy tanks and artillery systems, drawing swift criticism from the Russian Embassy in London.
Sunak promised to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine after a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday, according to a statement from his office.
This step makes the UK the first Western country to supply the heavy tanks demanded by Kyiv.
Sunak said the tanks were a sign of the UK’s “ambition to step up our support for Ukraine,” according to a readout of a phone call with Zelensky.
The Ukrainian leader expressed his appreciation for the UK’s military support on Twitter, saying “decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but will also send the right signal to other partners.”
The always strong support from the UK is now impenetrable and ready to meet challenges. In conversation with the Prime Minister, @employeeI thanked you for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.
– Володимир Зеленський (ZelenskyyUa) January 14, 2023
Sunak’s office said the British prime minister believes “a long and steady war only serves Russia’s interests”.
“UK defense and security officials believe there is an open window where Russia is left behind due to resupply problems and low morale,” the statement said. The Prime Minister therefore encourages Allies to deploy their planned support for 2023 as early as possible for maximum impact.
The Challenger 2 squadron, battle tanks designed to attack other tanks, will go to Ukraine in the coming weeks. It added that about 30 AS90s, which are large self-propelled guns, manned by five gunners, are expected to follow.
Russia responded to the UK’s pledge by warning that it would only “intensify” the conflict.
The Russian embassy in London said: “Bringing tanks into the conflict zone, far from ending hostilities, will only lead to an intensification of hostilities, which will lead to more losses, including among the civilian population.”
Ukraine has been asking for heavier tanks for months, including the American Abrams tanks and the German Leopard 2 tanks. However, some Western leaders tread carefully.
Poland and the Czech Republic provided Soviet-era T-72 tanks to the Ukrainian army.
While Poland has also expressed willingness to donate Leopard tanks, President Andrzej Duda emphasized that the move would only be possible as part of a larger international coalition of tank assistance to Ukraine.
Earlier this month, France said it would send AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine, called “light tanks” in France. The United States and Germany announced that same week that they would send Bradley fighting vehicles and Marder armored personnel carriers, respectively, for the first time.
The UK’s decision to provide the tanks came as Russian forces fired missiles at the Ukrainian capital and other cities across the country on Saturday, hitting critical infrastructure.
At least 12 people were killed and more than 64 wounded in the southeastern city of Dnipro, where a Russian missile attack destroyed part of a residential building, the region’s governor, Valentin Reznichenko, said.
He added that among the wounded were seven children, the youngest of whom was three years old, explaining that “the fate of 26 people is still unknown.”
Infrastructure facilities were also bombed in the western Lviv region and northeastern Kharkiv. The capital, Kyiv, was also targeted.