LONDON, Jan. 14 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said late on Saturday that Britain would send 14 of its main battle tanks along with additional artillery support to Ukraine, despite criticism from the Russian embassy in London.
A squadron of 14 Challenger 2 tanks will move into the country in the coming weeks and about 30 self-propelled AS90 guns piloted by five gunners are expected to follow, the British Prime Minister’s office said in a statement.
The UK will also begin training Ukrainian troops to use the tanks and guns in the coming days.
“As the people of Ukraine approach their second year of life and live under relentless Russian bombing, the prime minister is committed to ensuring Ukraine wins this war,” a spokesman for the prime minister said in a statement.
“Together with his closest military advisers, he has analyzed the military picture, looked at the strategic impact of UK support and identified a window where he believes the UK and its allies can have maximum impact.”
The announcement follows a telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier on Saturday in which Sunak “outlined the UK’s ambition to step up our support to Ukraine, including through the delivery of Challenger 2 tanks and additional artillery systems.”
Sunak’s office said earlier this week that Britain would coordinate its support with allies after Germany, France and the United States all indicated last week that they would supply armored vehicles to Ukraine.
The office also said the Defense Secretary would update the UK Parliament on Monday on details of the security assistance.
The Russian embassy in London said the decision to send the tanks would drag down the confrontation, lead to more casualties, including civilians, and be evidence of “London’s increasingly clear involvement in the conflict”.
“As for the Challenger 2 tanks, they are unlikely to help Ukraine’s armed forces turn the tide on the battlefield, but they will become a legitimate major target for Russian artillery,” the embassy said, according to comments quoted by the TASS News Agency.
The Challenger 2 is a main battle tank designed to attack other tanks and has been in service with the British Army since 1994. According to the military, he has been deployed to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq.
“The Prime Minister and President Zelenskiy welcomed other international commitments in this spirit, including Poland’s offer to provide a company of Leopard tanks,” Sunak’s spokesman said.
Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address published ahead of the detailed British announcement, called the expected aid “important” for the defense of Ukraine.
“It’s really what’s needed,” Zelenskiy said. “And I believe that similar decisions will continue to be made by other partners – those who understand why such evil cannot be given a chance.”
Reporting by Michael Holden and Lidia Kelly; Edited by Mark Heinrich, Angus MacSwan, Tomasz Janowski and Deepa Babington
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