Thu, 09 Feb 2023

The US announced on Wednesday it will supply Ukraine with 31 advanced M1 Abrams tanks in a matter of months, even though Washington was previously sceptical about giving Kyiv the difficult-to-maintain tanks. Follow our live blog for the latest updates on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

7:01pm: Zelensky says US Abrams tanks keep Ukraine on 'path to victory'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday thanked US President Joe Biden for his decision to send Abrams tanks to his war-torn country.

"It's an important step on the path to victory," Zelensky tweeted, thanking Biden for his "powerful" decision.

6:40pm: Ukraine presidential office chief hails 'historic day' after US tank announcement

The head of the Ukrainian presidential administration responded to an announcement by President Joe Biden that the US was sending 31 advanced M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine by calling it a "historic day" that would help determine the outcome of the war.

"The main thing is that this is only the beginning. We need hundreds of tanks," Andriy Yermak said in a post on Telegram labeled "The US will give us 31 Abrams." He added, "It's a historic day. One of those days that will determine our future victory."

6:32pm: 'So important' for Scholz to co-ordinate with allies on tanks for Ukraine

Before Berlin eventually decided to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the German government were "criticised in recent weeks, in particular by the United Kingdom, Poland and the Baltic countries" -- but it is worth noting that "Germany has been a major supplier of weapons to Ukraine, of heavy weapons including the Patriot missile system; it is not as though Germany has been sitting on the fence doing nothing," said FRANCE 24 Chief Foreign Editor Robert Parsons.

"A major concern for the Germans is that it shouldn't allow itself to be open to criticism from the Russians, which we've already heard today, that it's abandoning its responsibility for the crimes committed by the Nazis during the Second World War," Parsons continued.

"That is, I think, why it was so important for Olaf Scholz that he do this in co-ordination with his allied partners [...] in particular the United States. That is why he has been so insistent that if the Germans were to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, the United States should come in as well by supplying Abrams tanks to Ukraine."

6:30pm: Norway will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

Norway will send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine as part of Western aid, its defence minister announced Wednesday, joining other European countries.

"Norway and the government support the donation of battle tanks to Ukraine. Norway will take part," Defence Minister Bjorn Arild Gram said in an interview with Norwegian public television NRK without stating how many would be sent

6:29pm: Britain's Sunak urges allies to 'intensify' Ukraine support

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak welcomed Western allies' announcements on sending tanks to Ukraine and urged them to "intensify their support in the coming weeks and months", in a call Wednesday with other leaders.

"This decisive, collective action would be a catalyst for other countries to follow suit," Sunak's office said in a readout of the call with the leaders of the United States, Germany, France and Italy

6:14pm: Russia's Lavrov excoriates West in new Africa tour

The Kremlin's top diplomat slammed the West and praised Angola's "balanced position" on international affairs on Wednesday as he pursued an African tour aimed at drumming up support for Russia.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on his second visit to Africa in just six months, held talks with President Joao Lourenco and his Angolan counterpart Tete Antonio.

His latest trip coincides with that of US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and comes a month after President Joe Biden hosted African leaders at the US-Africa summit in Washington.

Speaking after talks with Lourenco, Lavrov pledged Russia's "mutual firm commitment to development in all areas" with Angola.

6pm: US to send Ukraine 31 Abrams tanks in major reversal

The US announced on Wednesday it will supply Ukraine with 31 advanced M1 Abrams tanks in a matter of months, a decision that helped break a diplomatic logjam with Germany over how best to help Kyiv in its war against Russia.

President Joe Biden announced the decision in remarks at the White House. The US had been sceptical about the idea of deploying the difficult-to-maintain Abrams tanks but had to change tack in order to persuade Germany to send its more easily used Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Still, the Abrams - among the most powerful US tanks - will not be heading to Ukraine anytime soon.

Senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the decision said it will take months, not weeks, for the Abrams to be delivered and described the decision as providing for Ukraine's long-term defense.

Members of the Ukrainian military will receive training on using the Abrams in a yet-to-be determined location. While a highly sophisticated and expensive weapon, the Abrams is difficult to maintain and provides a logistical re-supply challenge because it runs on jet fuel.

5:50pm: UEFA strips Russia's Kazan of hosting Super Cup game over Ukraine invasion

UEFA stripped Russia of hosting rights on Wednesday for the season-opening Super Cup game in August because of the country's ongoing war in Ukraine.

The city of Kazan, which was a 2018 World Cup host, was due to stage the curtain-raising game between the winners of this season's Champions League and Europa League.

It will now be played in Athens at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium home of Olympiakos on Aug. 16, UEFA said after an executive committee meeting.

5:32pm: Biden calls leaders of France, Britain Germany, Italy on Ukraine aid

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday spoke with key European allies about supporting Ukraine's fight against Russia, the White House said.

Biden discussed "our close coordination on support for Ukraine" with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

5:14pm: Ukraine Defence Minister says 'good news' on the way after call with US counterpart

Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he spoke with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Wednesday, promising "more good news to be announced soon."

Reznikov said they discussed "further strengthening of (Ukraine's army), including tank supplies and maintenance of the new armament."

"More good news to be announced soon," the Ukrainian official wrote on Twitter, without providing further details.

4:49pm: Ukrainians 'disappointed' Germany is sending just 14 tanks

The long-awaited German announcement that it is sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine has been greeted with "a lot of relief" in Kyiv, FRANCE 24's Emmanuelle Chaze reported from the Ukrainian capital. "People didn't understand the hesitation from the German chancellor, because Ukrainian soldiers are dying in the east [...] and they didn't understand why it took so long for Germany to make that announcement. People are a bit disappointed at the number of tanks announced - 14. This is not enough to fight against the Russian army. But they do count enough on other country's pledges to also send Leopard 2 tanks."

4:45pm: Spain says 'ready' to send German tanks to Ukraine

Spain said Wednesday it was ready to send some of its German-made Leopard tanks to bolster Ukraine's fight against Russia after Berlin granted approval for their European transfers.

"Spain is ready [...] to deal with our allies in any way necessary, whether that means sending Leopards, training in the use of Leopards or help in their maintenance and upkeep," Defence Minister Margarita Robles said.

Her remarks came shortly after Berlin said it would send some of its own Leopards to Kyiv and cleared other European nations to send their own stocks to Ukraine. Robles did not specify numbers or give a delivery date but said Spain would assess what it could provide in terms of hardware and training, so Ukraine's troops could use the complex battle tanks.

4:27pm: Neutral Swiss consider weaponry re-exports to Ukraine

A parliamentary panel in Switzerland has recommended waiving a law that bars countries from re-exporting Swiss armored vehicles, weapons and other war materiel to Ukraine for its defense against Russia, insisting the move would not violate the country's much-vaunted neutrality.

The Security Policy Committee of the lower house of Switzerland's parliament voted 14-11 Tuesday to allow an re-export exception for cases involving a use of force that violates international law - notably, Russia's invasion of Ukraine 11 months ago.

Adherence to the concept of "neutrality" is enshrined in the Swiss constitution. The National Council committee's vote amounts to only a small first step, and it remains far from certain whether the government would authorize such a waiver.

3:54pm: Putin ignores German tank decision, gives career advice on Moscow University visit

Russian President Vladimir Putin avoided commenting on Germany's landmark decision on Wednesday to supply tanks to Ukraine during a visit to Moscow State University, instead dispensing career advice to students and fielding questions on other topics.

Putin, a fluent German speaker who served in the former East Germany as a KGB officer, spent more than an hour responding to students' questions on issues ranging from lost dogs to quantum technology, though the war in Ukraine also kept coming up indirectly.

A student named Vladislav from the Russian-occupied Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine told Putin he had taken part last year in Moscow's "special military operation" in Ukraine and his dream was to work for the FSB security service, which Putin once headed.

Putin thanked him for his service and said he would definitely take his FSB ambitions into account. "People like you understand most acutely the importance of action to protect people [...] and Russia itself," the president said. "Thank God that you are alive and well, people like you will be needed both in Special Services and the FSB."

3:18pm: Europe human rights court rules Netherlands can bring MH17 case against Russia

The European Court of Human Rights said on Wednesday that a case brought by the Netherlands against Russia over the downing of passenger flight MH17 in July 2014 was admissible.

The decision is procedural and does not rule on the merits of the case, but it does show the Strasbourg-based court considers Russia can be held liable for human rights violations in the Ukrainian breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

3:17pm: Germans 'split in two' over military aid to Ukraine

Berlin's decision to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine "really came down to the Americans", said Markus Ziener, Helmut Schmidt Fellow at the German Marshall Fund's Berlin bureau. "As soon as the United States was saying 'well, we're providing our Abrams tanks to Ukraine', the Germans went along.

"There was a lot of speculation going on in the past days over what's really going happening [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz's mind. [...] What made him be so hesitant? Why didn't he speak up on what was really making it so hard for him to take this decision? Was there some conversation between the Russians and the Germans that made him worry to much? Or was it actually what the population in Germany is thinking about going further into this war, now with our Leopard tanks, which could be seen as an escalation at least from the Russian side," Ziener continued.

"The German population is actually split into two more or less even groups of people who think 'ok, we've done enough, we should not do more in terms of sending tanks', and an another half saying 'we have to help the Ukrainians more than we already did'. So I think [Scholz] was looking at this - and that was the main reason he was so hesitant."

3:14pm: Russia shuts down country's oldest human rights group

A court in the Russian capital on Wednesday ruled to shut down the country's oldest human rights organisation, the Moscow Helsinki Group, silencing another respected institute critical of President Vladimir Putin.

The Moscow City Court's judge granted a request by the Justice Ministry to "dissolve" the rights group, the court said in a statement on social media.

2:45pm: Deserter from Wagner group released in Norway

Norwegian police said Wednesday they had released a man claiming to be a former member of Russian mercenary group Wagner, who fled to Norway nearly a fortnight ago.

Andrei Medvedev, 26, crossed the Russian-Norwegian border in the country's far north in the early hours of January 13 and sought asylum in the Scandinavian country. He was arrested on Sunday for refusing to follow restrictions imposed by police since his arrival in the country, according to his lawyer. On Wednesday, immigration police released Medvedev from the Trandum immigration detention centre "on condition that he stays in a specific place," Jon Andreas Johansen, a police official in charge of immigration affairs, told AFP in an email.

Medvedev claims to have fought in Ukraine as a member of Wagner for four months before deserting in November, when the paramilitary organisation led by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin allegedly extended his contract against his will.

2:45pm: Zelensky tells Scholz 'sincerely grateful' for German tanks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday thanked his German counterpart Olaf Scholz for Berlin's decision to deliver powerful Leopard tanks and grant approval for other countries to send some from their own stocks.

"German main battle tanks, further broadening of defence support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz," Zelensky said on Twitter, adding that he was "sincerely grateful to the Chancellor and all our friends".

2:44pm: Ukraine asks countries with Leopard 2 tanks to provide as many as possible

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday appealed to all countries that operate the Leopard 2 battle tank to "provide as many of them as possible" to help Ukraine fend off Russia's invasion.

"So the tank coalition is formed. Everyone who doubted this could ever happen sees now: for Ukraine and partners impossible is nothing," he wrote on Twitter.

"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."

2:41pm: Russia says delivery of German tanks to Ukraine part of 'pre-planned war'

Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Germany's decision to supply tanks to Ukraine confirmed what she said was a "pre-planned war" against Moscow.

Kyiv has for months asked for Western tanks that it says it desperately needs to give its forces the firepower and mobility to break through Russian defensive lines and recapture occupied territory in the east and south.

2:40pm: Idea of 'historical responsibility' behind German tank reluctance

One of the Russian criticisms of Berlin's decision to send Kyiv Leopard tanks is that Germany is "abandoning its historical responsibility because of what the Nazis did in Germany during the Second World War", noted FRANCE 24 Chief Foreign Editor Robert Parsons. "It's interesting just how Olaf Scholz seemed to pick up on all that. There were questions about Germany abandoning its Ostpolitik - its attempt to introduce detente into the relationship back in those days between the West and the Soviet Union.

"It was clear that one of the things that was holding back Germany during the last few weeks, when the pressure has been really mounting to deliver the Leopard tanks, has been this awareness of what Germany's role has been in the past - and a fear that, if Germany were to go by itself and provide Ukraine with Leopard tanks, that Germany would be more open to the criticism from Russia that we've been getting today."

1:40pm: NATO chief says German tanks can help Ukraine 'win'

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday "strongly" welcomed Germany's decision to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, saying it can help Kyiv defeat Russia's invading forces.

"At a critical moment in Russia's war, these can help Ukraine to defend itself, win & prevail as an independent nation," Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.

1:38pm: Scholz warns against 'escalating' Ukraine war

Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday said Western allies would keep supporting Ukraine as Germany promised Leopard tanks for Kyiv, but also highlighted the danger of further inflaming the conflict.

"We must always make it clear in everything we do that we are doing what is necessary and possible to support Ukraine, but that at the same time we are preventing the war from escalating into a war between Russia and NATO," Scholz said in his speech to parliament announcing the decision.

1:20pm: Spain open to sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine, minister says

Spain is open to providing German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said on Wednesday after Germany agreed to send the tanks and allow other NATO allies to do the same.

She told EFE news agency Spain would act in coordination with the Western allies helping Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion.

According to security and defence researcher Felix Arteaga of the Elcano think-tank, Spain has 108 2A4 tanks. About half of these tanks are in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and 53 are in reserve and would need to be refit, Arteaga said, adding that it would likely take a few months to prepare them.

1:15pm: Finland says it will be part of group sending tanks to Ukraine

Finland's Defence Minister Mikko Savola said on Wednesday his country will participate in the group of countries sending tanks to Ukraine, although the contribution would be limited in scope.

"The international cooperation to send Leopards to Ukraine is advancing now and Finland will participate in that," Savola told reporters.

He declined to comment further on the size of Finland's contribution.

1:11pm: Netherlands also prepared to supply battle tanks to Ukraine, PM says

The Netherlands is prepared to deliver battle tanks to Ukraine if needed, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday.

"If a contribution from the Netherlands helps, we are prepared to do so," Rutte told Dutch broadcaster RTL.

Rutte said the Netherlands could opt to buy tanks it currently leases from Germany, and supply those to Ukraine.

12:56pm: Russia says Germany spurning 'historical responsibility', 'takes the conflict to new level'

The Russian embassy in Germany said on Wednesday that Berlin's decision to approve the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine meant it was abandoning its "historical responsibility to Russia" arising from Nazi crimes in World War Two.

In a statement, the embassy said that the decision would escalate the conflict to a new level. "This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about the unwillingness of the Federal Republic of Germany to be drawn into it," Ambassador Sergei Nechayev said.

12:40pm: Ukraine welcomes German decision on tanks as 'first step'

Kyiv on Wednesday welcomed Germany's decision to green light Leopard 2 tank deliveries to Ukraine, following weeks of pressure from allies. "The first step on tanks has been taken. Next - the 'tank coalition'. We need a lot of Leopards," the head of Ukraine's presidential administration Andriy Yermak said on social media, referring to other countries that have said they would also send the tanks with Berlin's approval.

12:35pm: Paris, Warsaw, London hail Berlin's decision to send heavy Leopard war tanks to Ukraine

The French presidency on Wednesday welcomed Berlin's decision to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and allow other states to do the same in support of the country's fight against Russia. "France welcomes the German decision, which extends and amplifies the support we have provided with the delivery of the AMX10 RC", the Elysee said in a statement, referring to a France-made lighter combat vehicle which Paris is also aiming to send to Ukraine.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Wednesday thanked Germany for approving the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and providing a company of them from Berlin's own stocks.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday that Germany and other NATO allies' decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was the "right decision". "The right decision by NATO Allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine's defensive firepower," Sunak said on Twitter.

11:49am: German govt approves supplying Ukraine with heavy Leopard battle tanks, will accept other countries' requests to do the same

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Wednesday that the country will supply its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, overcoming misgivings about sending heavy weaponry that Kyiv sees as crucial to defeat the Russian invasion but Moscow cast as needless provocation.

Berlin will provide a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from the Bundeswehr stocks and is also granting approval for other European countries to send tanks from their own stocks to Ukraine, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in a statement. "The aim is to quickly assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine," he said.

Pressure had been building for weeks on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government to send the tanks and allow other NATO allies to do so as well ahead of expected spring offensives by both sides that could help turn the tide of the war.

Scholz's government had stalled on the decision, wary of moves that could prompt Russia to escalate or suck the NATO alliance into becoming a party to the conflict. Germany's decision paves the way for other countries such as Poland, Spain and Norway to supply their stocks of Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

11:05am: Ukraine admits its troops have withdrawn from Soledar, army spokesman says

The Ukrainian army admitted on Wednesday that its troops have withdrawn from the eastern town of Soledar, leaving it to pro-Russian forces, two weeks after Moscow announced it had taken the town.

"After months of heavy fighting, including over the past weeks, the Armed Forces of Ukraine left (Soledar) and retreated along the outskirts to pre-prepared positions," said military spokesman Sergiy Cherevaty told AFP. He nevertheless refused to say exactly when the retreat took place.

9:50pm: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set to announce govt decision on tank deliveries to Ukraine during parliament address

Members of Scholz's three-party coalition government welcomed the news ahead of the official announcement which is expected in a speech to parliament in early afternoon. "The Leopard's freed!" said German lawmaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a senior Green party lawmaker.

FRANCE 24's correspondent Nick Spicer has more on the story from Berlin.

7:08am: Russia's defence ministry says frigate tested 900 km missile strike capacity

The Russian Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that the frigate Admiral Gorshkov tested strike capability with Zircon missiles with a range of more than 900 km.

6:04am: Germany promises swift answer on battle tanks for Ukraine; Chancellor Scholz to answer MP questions

Berlin was expected to announce a decision Wednesday on the export of powerful German-made Leopard battle tanks long sought by Kyiv, and encouraged allies to start training Ukrainian forces to use them. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to make an announcement at the Bundestag during an address to German MPs.

According to magazine Spiegel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had decided to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and to allow other countries such as Poland to do so as well. The magazine, which first reported the news, said Berlin was planning to supply at least one company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks, which usually comprises 14 tanks. Other allies, in Scandinavia for example, intend to go along with Germany in supplying their Leopard tanks to Kyiv, the magazine reported.

3:00am: Washington's possible tank deliveries to Ukraine a 'blatant provocation', says Russian ambassador

The possible deliveries of battle tanks by Washington to Ukraine will be a "another blatant provocation" against Russia, Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the United States, said on Wednesday.

"It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us," Antonov said in remarks published on the embassy's Telegram messaging app.

"If the United States decides to supply tanks, then justifying such a step with arguments about 'defensive weapons' will definitely not work. This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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