British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday pledged in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that London will provide Kyiv with its main battle tank, the Challenger 2.
“The Prime Minister outlined the UK’s ambition to intensify our support to Ukraine, including through the provision of Challenger 2 tanks and additional artillery systems,” Sunak’s office said in a readout of the call.
The Challenger 2 could be the first Western-made heavy tank that Ukraine receives. Poland has said it’s ready to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv, but it’s not clear if Warsaw has officially begun the process of sending the tanks, which would involve formally asking Berlin for permission.
Britain is set to send 14 of the Challenger 2s in the coming weeks, far short of the 300 heavy tanks Ukrainian officials say they need. Poland has said it’s willing to send a similar number but is hoping to do so as part of an “international coalition.”
Germany’s vice chancellor has said Berlin wouldn’t block Poland from sending Leopard 2s to Ukraine, but there’s no sign yet that Germany is planning to send tanks of its own. There’s also no indication that the US is looking to send its Abrams tanks, but Washington has said it’s in favor of other countries’ plans to provide Kyiv with tanks.
Sending heavy battle tanks to Ukraine marks a significant escalation in military aid and risks provoking Moscow. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz previously said he was trying to avoid a direct clash between NATO and Russia when explaining his opposition to sending tanks.
In response to Sunak’s pledge, the Russian Embassy in London said such support would only prolong the war. “Bringing tanks to the conflict zone, far from drawing the hostilities to a close, will only serve to intensify combat operations, generating more casualties, including among the civilian population,” the embassy said.