Germany’s offer of 14 Leopard tanks triggered calls from Ukraine’s government for western fighter jets and more heavy armour as it formally announced its forces’ retreat from the eastern town of Soledar after nine months of bloody battle.
Kyiv lauded Berlin’s decision, along with reports the US was preparing to send its own Abrams tanks, but the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and his ministers are also seeking to break a “taboo” on the provision of jets such as US-made F16s.
The appeal for further tanks is expected to be partly satisfied, as Berlin’s decision could unlock offers by Finland, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Poland and Norway to provide Ukraine with their own German-manufactured Leopard 2A6 machines.
Germany said it was yet to receive any requests – with the exception of Poland – for authorisation for the re-export of Leopard 2 tanks but that others would probably make announcements about their plans in the coming hours and days.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said: “So the tank coalition is formed. Everyone who doubted this could ever happen sees now: for Ukraine and partners impossible is nothing. I call on all new partners that have Leopard 2 tanks in service to join the coalition and provide as many of them as possible. They are free now.”
Kuleba later said he had spoken to Poland’s foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, about further military aid, including fighter jets, a request that has been repeatedly put to Nato allies without success.
Yuriy Sak, who advises Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, also said fighter jets would be “the next big hurdle”.
“If we get them, the advantages on the battlefield will be just immense”, he said. “It’s not just F-16s. Fourth generation aircraft, this is what we want.”
Previous calls for US-made jets have not borne fruit, but the Dutch government recently said it would consider transferring some of its 50 planes in coordination with allies. Ukraine has until now received only Soviet planes and spare parts for its air force.
In response to Berlin’s decision on tanks, Zelenskiy said he had spoken to Olaf Scholz, and that he was “sincerely grateful to the chancellor and all our friends”.
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