UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has pledged to supply heavy tanks and artillery systems to Ukraine, quickly drawing criticism from the Russian embassy in London.
Sunak promised to send the 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine after a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday, according to a statement from his office.
The move makes the UK the first Western country to supply the heavy tanks Kiev requested.
Sunak said the tanks were a sign of the UK’s “ambition to step up our support for Ukraine,” according to a reading of a telephone conversation with Zelenskyy.
The Ukrainian leader took to Twitter to express his appreciation for the UK’s military support, saying “the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners”.
Always strong support from the UK is now impenetrable and ready for challenges. In a conversation with the Prime Minister @Rishi SunakI thanked for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.
— Volodymyr Zelensky (@ZelenskyyUa) January 14, 2023
Sunak’s office said the British Prime Minister believed that a “long and static war only serves Russia’s interests”.
“British defense and security officials believe a window has opened where Russia is hot on its heels due to supply problems and declining morale,” the statement said. “The Prime Minister therefore encourages allies to deploy their planned support for 2023 as soon as possible to have maximum impact.”
The squadron of Challenger 2 tanks, main battle tanks designed to attack other tanks, will move into Ukraine in the coming weeks. About 30 AS90s, large, self-propelled guns piloted by five gunners, are expected to follow, it said.
Russia responded to the UK’s promise by warning it would only “intensify” the conflict.
“Bringing tanks into the conflict zone will not end hostilities, but will only intensify combat operations and increase casualties, including among the civilian population,” the Russian embassy in London said.
Ukraine has been requesting delivery of heavier tanks for months, including the American Abrams and the German Leopard 2 tanks. However, some Western leaders have taken a cautious approach.
Poland and the Czech Republic have supplied Soviet-era T-72 tanks to the Ukrainian army.
While Poland has also expressed its willingness to provide Leopard tanks, President Andrzej Duda underlined that the move would only be possible as part of a larger international coalition of tank aid to Ukraine.
Earlier this month, France said it would send AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine, referred to in France as “light tanks”. The US and Germany announced the same week that they would send Bradley fighting vehicles and Marder armored cars respectively for the first time.
The UK’s decision to supply the tanks came as Russian troops fired rockets at Ukraine’s capital and other cities in the country on Saturday, hitting critical infrastructure.
At least 12 people were killed and more than 64 injured in the southeastern city of Dnipro, where a Russian missile strike destroyed part of an apartment building, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.
Seven children were among the injured, the youngest aged three, he added, “the fate of 26 people is still unknown”.
Infrastructure facilities were also affected in the western Lviv region and northeastern Kharkiv. Kiev, the capital, was also targeted.