Kyiv says its forces are outnumbered and fighting ‘intensifying’ Russian attacks near Bakhmut

The United States and Germany have announced plans to send dozens of advanced battle tanks to Ukraine following intense debate and pressure from NATO allies to respond positively to calls from Kyiv for up to 300 tanks to help repel Russia’s 11-month large-scale invasion.

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Their decisions follow a British decision earlier this month to send 14 of its own Challenger 2 tanks, which could take months of training and other preparations to complete.

Kyiv was quick to hail German and American tank pledges as crucial to its victory hopes, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was quick to point out that “speed and volume are now essential”.

In his evening speech, Zelenskiy said he also spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltengeg and urged deliveries of long-range missiles and aircraft.

President Joe Biden said the United States would send 31 of its highly advanced Abrams tanks in a move he said posed no offensive threat to Russia.

Moscow has warned that it views the Western supply of such tanks to its much smaller post-Soviet enemy as a dangerous provocation.

Speaking from the White House, Biden said NATO tanks for Ukraine would help “enhance their ability to maneuver in open terrain.”

He hailed Berlin’s announcement hours earlier as evidence that “Germany has really stepped up”.

Biden added that “the expectation from Russia is that we will go our separate ways, but we are fully, totally and completely united.”

Besides the tanks, Washington’s assistance would also include eight tracked recovery and towing vehicles known as the M88.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby later said it would be ‘many months’ before US tanks arrived, but Ukraine needed to be ready for improved weather and an intensification of Russian attacks.

He added that there was no indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin intended to attack NATO territory.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced the supply of 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as well as opening the way for third countries to re-export their own German-made Leopards amid fears of a spring offensive from Russia and a reminder of the intense assault on Ukraine after troops were forced to withdraw from the town of Soledar.

Scholz said the decision, approved on Jan. 25, was “the right principle” in the face of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of its neighbor. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius added that the first Leopard tanks could be in Ukraine within three months.

Later, Biden and Scholz held a joint call with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during which they reportedly agreed on the need for continued military support for Ukraine. and close transatlantic coordination.

Zelensky quickly welcomed the White House move as a “powerful decision” and “an important step on the road to victory.”

“Today the free world is united as never before for a common goal – the liberation of [Ukraine]. We are moving forward,” he added.

According to the German government, Berlin’s goal is to quickly establish two battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, adding that it will initially supply 14 tanks from its military stocks.

Scholz said Western allies would continue to support Ukraine, but also warned that decisions had to be made bearing in mind whether they could further escalate the conflict, which is now in its 12th month.

“We must always make it clear in everything we do that we are doing what is necessary and possible to support Ukraine, but at the same time we are preventing the war from escalating into a war between Russia and NATO” , Scholz told the Bundestag. , the lower house of the German parliament.

Zelensky too thanked Scholz for Germany’s “important and timely decisions”, saying they were a “green light for partners to provide similar weapons”.

Kyiv hopes the move will shift the balance on the battlefield as Russia continues to exert massive pressure on Ukrainian defenders in the east of the country, where Ukraine on January 25 confirmed that he had completely withdrawn from the strategic city of Soledar.

“The first stage of the reservoir has been completed”, said Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, adding that he hopes this will be the start of a “tank coalition” to meet Kyiv’s needs.

Norwegian Defense Minister Bjoern Arild Gram said after the German announcement that Norway would also send tanks to Ukraine, but did not specify how many.

Poland, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway are some of the other European countries that are expected to follow suit and supply some of their Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

“Spain is ready (…) to deal with our allies in any way necessary, whether it is to send Leopards, to train in the use of Leopards or to help in their maintenance and upkeep,” Defense Minister Margarita Robles said, without giving further details.

Pal Jonson, the Swedish defense minister, whose NATO membership is blocked by Turkey, told AFP news agency that his country does not “rule out” sending Leopard 2s to Ukraine .

Germany’s announcement was quickly met with support from the West and derision from Moscow.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has already announced his intention to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, welcomed Germany’s decision to “further boost Ukraine’s defensive firepower”.

“Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure that Ukraine wins this war and secures lasting peace,” Sunak said. Twitter.

He then added that the West must “step up” its support for Ukraine.

NATO’s Stoltenberg “strongly” welcomed Germany’s move, saying it can help Kyiv defeat invading Russian forces.

“At a critical moment in Russia’s war, these can help Ukraine defend itself, win, and establish itself as an independent nation,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.

WATCH: As Ukrainian artillery pound Russian positions, a military doctor says work in his field hospital is getting more intense and a drone unit reports Russia massaging more artillery columns . Current Time correspondent Andriy Kuzakov reports from the front line.

Russia, however, was angered by the decision of its ambassador to Germany, Sergei Nechayev, calling it “extremely dangerous”. He accused Berlin of being “prone to a permanent escalation” of the conflict.

“This extremely dangerous decision moves the conflict to a new level of stalemate and contradicts statements by German politicians about Germany’s reluctance to get involved,” he said, adding that “Germany , like its close allies, is not interested in diplomatic policy”. resolution of the Ukrainian crisis, and is prone to its permanent escalation and the unlimited rise of the Kyiv regime with more lethal weapons. »

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said political decisions by the West, including sending in tanks, were creating a “very, very tense” security situation in Europe and for the world in his outfit.

The BBC quoted Russia’s Ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, as calling the supply of M1 Abram tanks to Ukraine a “blatant provocation against the Russian Federation”.

He accused the United States of seeking to “inflict a strategic defeat on us”.

In an apparent setback on the battlefield, Ukrainian forces acknowledged on January 25 that they had completed the withdrawal from the strategic town of Soledar in Donetsk after weeks of heavy fighting with Russian forces.

Reuters and AFP news agencies quoted a Ukrainian military spokesman as saying the move saw soldiers return to pre-designated positions.

“After months of heavy fighting, including in the last few weeks, the Ukrainian armed forces left (Soledar) and retreated along the periphery to positions prepared in advance,” he told AFP. Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatiy.

Earlier this month, Russia claimed to have established control of the salt mining town with a pre-war population of around 10,000. Soledar is located about twenty kilometers from the strategic town of Bakhmut, where pitched battles have been going on for months without either side winning.

Earlier on January 25, the Ukrainian army said that despite “many losses”, Russian troops continued their offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with attacks directed mainly against Bakhmut and Avdiyivka in Donetsk, where fierce fighting has been going on for months.

With reports from the Ukrainian service of RFE/RL, Reuters, AFP, Politico, CNN and the BBC

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