Hours after the US and Germany last week agreed to send scores of armoured infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, Kyiv made clear what it really wanted: “To win faster, we need tanks,” the defence ministry said on Twitter.

Rather than ingratitude, the tweet was a sign of growing confidence in the Ukrainian capital that repeated demands for western battle tanks are starting to bear fruit.

The UK is assessing whether to provide its Challenger 2 modern battle tank. Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said over the weekend that he was “in negotiations aimed at creating a broader coalition of countries” to deliver western tanks to Kyiv. A Polish official said Warsaw was prepared to provide a dozen of its 240 German-made Leopard 2s.

A Leopard 2 mA Leopard 2 main battle tankain battle tank
A Leopard 2 main battle tank. Officials say Warsaw is prepared to provide a dozen of its 240 German-made Leopard 2s © Moritz Frankenberg/dpa

“Tanks are the next mental hurdle that the west needs to overcome in order to actually help Ukraine,” said Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defence minister.

Sak expressed hope that western defence chiefs could agree to supply tanks at their next meeting in the so-called Ramstein format on January 20 to co-ordinate military aid to Kyiv.

Kyiv needs heavy armour for combined arms manoeuvre warfare — joint operations by tanks, infantry and artillery to retake territory occupied by Russia and to fend off a possible renewed offensive by Moscow later this year. Russian forces are bearing down on Bakhmut, intensifying their assault on neighbouring Soledar and forcing Ukraine to send in reinforcements.

Modern western battle tanks, such as the US-made Abrams, or Leopard 2, were more powerful, had better armour and greater firing ranges than the approximately 300 Soviet-era tanks that Poland, Slovenia, Macedonia and the Czech Republic had already sent to Kyiv, Sak said.

“These issues are crucial when it comes to counter offensive which is where we are at now,” he added. “Two hundred tanks would be sufficient for two tank brigades, which would make a difference — just as [US supplied] Himars precision missiles have made a difference.”

On top of the modernised Soviet T-72 tanks supplied by allies, Kyiv has also captured more than 500 Russian tanks since February, according to Oryx, an open source intelligence outfit — although it is unclear how many were salvageable. Oryx calculates that Ukraine has lost 441 of its own.

A destroyed Russian tank stands across the road of a church in the town of Sviatohirsk, Ukraine
A destroyed Russian tank stands across the road of a church in the town of Sviatohirsk, Ukraine. Kyiv has captured more than 500 Russian tanks since February © Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Most western analysts think that the diesel-powered Leopard 2 is better suited for Ukraine’s needs than either the Abrams, the Challenger 2 or France’s Leclerc. The Leopard is used by 13 European armies, creating a large pool for Ukraine to draw on as well as multiple training and maintenance capabilities.

The US has resisted giving Abrams to Ukraine out of fear Russia could see the move as an escalation of the conflict, and concerns that the heavy gas-turbine tanks would be challenging for Ukrainian forces to operate, fuel and maintain.

Germany has so far refused to supply its Leopards, fearing it could drag Nato into a conflict with Russia. Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said Germany will “not go it alone”.

Scholz is under growing pressure from his coalition partners to give way. They have seized on France’s decision last week to send Ukraine an unspecified number of AMX-10 “tank killer” armoured vehicles that French officials and some analysts categorise as a light tank.

Scholz’s deputy, Green politician Robert Habeck, said on Sunday he would not rule out tank deliveries. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the Free Democrat chair of the German parliament’s defence committee, said Berlin should start preparations to work with European allies to supply Ukraine with Leopards.

“The more clearly we support Ukraine and the more clearly we signal to Putin that we will not let up with this support, the higher the chance that this war will end,” said Anton Hofreiter, a Green MP and chair of the Bundestag’s EU committee.

The German public appears to be more cautious, according to a poll conducted on Friday by the polling agency INSA for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper. Only 38 per cent of respondents were in favour of the government supplying Ukraine with battle tanks — while 50 per cent were against.

Kyiv’s allies are now in talks about assembling a consortium to supply the tanks and give cover to Germany to participate. Exports of Leopards would need German approval.

By shifting to western tanks, Kyiv would have larger ammunition supplies for the long term, since the stocks it needs for its own Soviet-designed tanks are dwindling. Kyiv has similarly shifted much of its heavy artillery from Soviet-era 152mm shells to Nato-standard 155mm ammunition.

Mustering 200 modern tanks for Ukraine — as many as France’s entire force — could prove a tall order, however. The Ukrainian army will also require extensive training and logistical support.

But Sak said Ukrainian soldiers “learn fast and we are confident that we can put in place the infrastructure needed to maintain and service main battle tanks”.

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