Poland to deliver T-72 tanks and anti-air system to Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers take pictures on top of a destroyed Russian tank on the outskirts of Kyiv. AP

Ukraine is set to get its first wartime delivery of tanks to help bolster its defences in the east, amid warnings that the region will soon suffer “heavy battles” as Russia refocuses its efforts there.

In a significant strategy shift, US defence sources said Washington would work with allies to facilitate the transfer of Soviet-made tanks, which Ukrainians already know how to use, to enable Ukraine to conduct long-range artillery strikes on Russian targets.

The US official did not disclose how many tanks will be sent, nor which countries they will come from, but Poland has a stockpile of Soviet-made T-72 tanks.

However, Poland, one of the most hawkish NATO member countries when it comes to Russia, is believed to be one possible candidate. Warsaw recently ordered US M1A2 Abrams tanks to replace its Soviet T-72 battle tanks, which will be phased out of service.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak announced the country’s government approved on Feb. 1 the delivery of Piorun (Thunderbolt) short-range, man-portable air defense (MANPAD) systems and munition to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

In December 2016, the Polish Ministry of National Defence awarded a contract worth about 932 million zloty ($232 million) to local defense company Mesko to order Pioruns for the country’s military. The Piorun is an upgraded version of the Grom MANPAD. Mesko is a subsidiary of Poland’s state-run defense group PGZ.

The decision is in response to a direct request from President Volodymyr Zelensky late last month to NATO leaders, including US President Joe Biden, for more military assistance at an emergency summit in Brussels. He said the tanks were needed to lift the sieges on “our cities that are now dying: Mariupol, Berdyansk, Melitopol, others”.

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