Britain sends 14 Challenger II heavy tanks to Ukraine

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plans to co-ordinate strategy with Nato allies this week

A British Army Challenger 2 main battle tank on exercise in Finland last year. Fourteen are now being sent to Ukraine. Bloomberg
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Britain has signalled a major “gear change” in its support for Ukraine, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announcing a squadron of heavy tanks will be sent to Ukrainian forces in weeks.

Mr Sunak is pushing for a Nato-wide campaign to supply Kyiv with enough modern armour to prove decisive in its battles with Russia.

Following a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Downing Street announced on Saturday that Britain would send 14 Challenger II main battle tanks and 30 AS90 155mm self-propelled guns.

A year ago, the idea of a Nato country sending main battle tanks to Ukraine would have been considered as a major escalation, drawing the alliance into a conflict with Russia.

The gradual intensification of the supply of modern equipment has gone from anti-tank weapons to artillery, precision missiles and now tanks. Kyiv is also asking for modern western fighter aircraft and attack helicopters.

Mr Sunak said that he will “galvanise international action” by sending his foreign and defence secretaries to meet their Nato counterparts to devise a strategy “to break the stalemate”.

Following Ukraine’s retaking of the Black Sea city of Kherson in November, the front line has been largely static.

Russia has been building defensive fortifications of trenches and tank traps along its lines.

Analysts told The National that the only way to break the deadlock is with an armoured division of more than 200 tanks and 500 armoured infantry fighting vehicles.

The annexed Crimea peninsula is understood to be “tank country”.

Downing Street declared that a “flurry of UK diplomatic activity” will take place around the world in the lead-up to the first anniversary of the start of the war on February 24.

“The Prime Minister is set to accelerate the UK’s diplomatic and military support to Ukraine in the weeks ahead in a bid to push Russia further back and secure a lasting peace,” Downing Street said.

Mr Sunak will ensure Britain is committed “to match or exceed” its defence support for Ukraine this year with Russia “on the back foot due to resupply issues and plummeting morale”.

He will also urge Nato allies to send military equipment to Ukraine “as soon as possible to have maximum impact”.

The US, Germany and France have all promised to send armoured infantry vehicles and light tanks to Ukraine but with no date set.

The UK said it will send the squadron of 14 Challengers to Ukraine “in the coming weeks” along with the AS90 self-propelled guns that are each manned by five gunners.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, will set out further details of the military package in parliament on Monday and will then travel to Estonia and Germany to build support.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will head to Washington then Canada to co-ordinate with allies.

Training for Ukraine’s tank and artillery troops will begin this week in the UK, where already up to 9,000 of Kyiv’s soldiers have been trained.

“The Prime Minister is dedicated to ensuring Ukraine wins this war,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said. “He has identified a window where he thinks the UK and its allies can have maximum impact.”

A static war, with the continued impact on energy prices, “only serves Russia’s ends” which is why Mr Sunak was seeking to “ramp up pressure” on Russia.

The death toll from a Russian missile attack that destroyed an apartment block in the city of Dnipro on Saturday has risen to 20, it was confirmed.

A further two dozen are missing with an unknown number of residents trapped under debris in an attack that injured at least 73 people.

Updated: January 15, 2023, 1:51 PM