Great Britain is considering supplying Ukraine with British tanks for the first time to fight against Russian invasion forces, Sky News understands.
Discussions have been going on for “several weeks” over the delivery of a number of the British army’s Challenger 2 main battle tanks to the Ukrainian armed forces, a Western source familiar with the talks said.
Such a move would mark a significant step in Western support for Ukraine and could help encourage other NATO allies, especially Germany, to follow suit.
“That would encourage others to give tanks,” the Ukrainian source said.
Rishi Sunak’s government has yet to make a final decision, but if the UK were to sign off on such a delivery, it would become the first nation to respond to pleas from Ukrainian leaders to equip its military with powerful Western tanks.
The group of about 50 nations led by the US – including Great Britain – which provides military support to Ukraine is due to hold its next meeting on January 20. Any announcements of new aid, such as tanks, could coincide with the gathering of the Contact Group.
One source suggested Britain could offer around 10 Challenger 2 tanks – enough to equip a squadron.
The source said this in itself would not be a “game changer” but would still be hugely important as the move would break a barrier that has so far prevented allies from offering Western tanks to Ukraine for fear of being seen as overly escalating. Russia.
That in turn could encourage other allies to do the same, the sources said.
Leopard II tanks used by several European allies
“It will be a good precedent for a demonstration.” [to] others – primarily to Germany, with their Leopards… and Abrams from the United States,” said a Ukrainian source.
Ukraine has long sought the German-made Leopard II mass-produced tanks, which are used by several European allies, including Germany, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands and Spain.
Warsaw and Helsinki have already indicated their willingness to deliver their Leopard tanks to Kiev, but this requires Berlin’s approval as Germany has an export permit.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, has adopted a more cautious approach to arming Ukraine than other countries such as Great Britain and the United States.
But he slowly increased his country’s aid.
Germany and the US promise armored fighting vehicles
Last week, Berlin and Washington said in a joint statement that they would supply Ukraine with armored fighting vehicles in an important political shift. For Germany, this means the Mardar infantry fighting vehicle. For the US, it consists of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
The economy minister said over the weekend that Berlin cannot rule out the delivery of Leopard tanks, which are heavier combat vehicles than the Mardar. But a German government spokesman said on Monday that there were currently no plans to send tanks.
The British Ministry of Defense would neither confirm nor deny that the British government is considering supplying Ukraine with tanks.
A spokesman said: “The Government has committed to match or exceed last year’s funding for military aid to Ukraine in 2023, and we will continue to build on recent donations with training and further equipment donations.”
“So far we have provided Ukraine with over 200 armored vehicles – including Stormer vehicles armed with Starstreak missiles.”
“We have also donated tens of thousands of items, including helmets and body armor, mobile and logistics vehicles, anti-tank weapons, missiles and air defense systems, winter and medical equipment.”
Click to subscribe to Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts
Last year, the UK sent 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Poland as part of a deal to help Ukraine by freeing up capacity for Warsaw to supply its Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Kiev.
In service since 1994, the Challenger 2 tank weighs 62.5 tons and is armed with a 120 mm gun and a 7.62 mm chain gun.
The introduction of Western tanks could ‘turn the balance’ on the battlefield
The Challenger tank squadron is currently stationed in Estonia as part of NATO’s mission in Eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression. The Challenger 2 was previously deployed in Bosnia and during the 2003 Iraq War.
Colonel Hamish de Bretton Gordon, former commander of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, said the introduction of Western tanks could “tip the balance” on the battlefield in favor of Ukraine.
“Strategically this sends a very strong message.” [Russian President Vladimir] Putin that nothing is off the table,” he said.
“Challenger 2 and Leopard II are modern tanks. They are much better protected, more reliable, faster,” he added.
Why is Bahmut so important to Russia?
Putin’s ceasefire is useful for another reason
In contrast, the Ukrainian military uses Soviet-era tanks like the T-72, including those already supplied by partners that also use them.
The Russian military also relied heavily on tanks produced during the Cold War.
Britain’s Challenger tanks – though modern by comparison – were last updated in the 1990s and are themselves in the process of being re-upgraded. Ukrainian soldiers would have to be trained how to operate and maintain them.
Russia said on Monday that new shipments of Western arms to Kiev would “deepen the suffering of the Ukrainian people” and would not change the course of the conflict.