The Kyiv government wants the German-made Leopard 2, one of the most widely used Western tanks, to help it break through Russian lines and recapture territory this year.
Germany, which must approve re-exports of the Leopard, has so far held back, wary of moves that could cause Moscow to escalate, and says other Nato countries have yet to formally ask to re-export them.
However, German foreign minister, Anna Baerbock, has said on Monday she “would not stand in the way” of Poland if they were to dispatch the tanks.
Western countries have committed billions of dollars in new military aid to Ukraine in recent days. On Monday, European Union foreign ministers agreed to release their latest tranche, worth €500m (£440m).
Last week, the UK pledged to send 14 British Army Challenger 2 battle tanks to further support Ukraine’s efforts against Russia’s invasion.
Ukrainian officials have been pleading with Western allies to supply them with tanks for months.
After Ukrainian advances in the second half of 2022, frontlines have been largely frozen in place for two months, despite heavy losses on both sides. Ukraine says Western tanks would give its ground troops the mobility, protection and firepower to break through Russian defensive lines and resume their advance.
How many tanks does the UK have?
As of 1 April, 2020, ]the UK Armed Forces had more than 4,000 armoured vehicles in total, the bulk of which are used for transportation.
The British Army has 227 Challenger 2 tanks – though many are not currently in position to be deployed.
The Challenger 2 is a main battle tank, designed to destroy other tanks. It has been used by the British Army on operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq, and has never experienced a loss at the hands of the enemy, the British Army states.
Each tank weighs 62.5 tonnes and is armed with a 120mm rifled gun and a 7.62mm chain gun.
The tank was initially built in the UK by Vickers Defence Systems, now BAE Systems and Land Armaments. It was designed as a replacement to the Challenger 1 tank in 1986, and has been in service with the British Army since July 1994.
The Challenger 2 is used by four armoured regiments, based in the South West of England at Tidworth, Wiltshire, and Bovington, Dorset. The regiments are called The Queen’s Royal Hussars, The King’s Royal Hussars, The Royal Tank Regiment, and The Royal Wessex Yeomanry – the reserve regiment. Each regiment operates 56 Challenger 2 tanks and a similar number of supporting vehicles in tasks such as reconnaissance and ammunition supply.
The British Army also has 181 Scimitars, which are its light battle tanks. “The Scimitar armoured fighting vehicle’s exceptionally low ground pressure and small size make it useful where the terrain is hostile and movement is difficult,” the Ministry of Defence says.
“Scimitar carries a 30mm Rarden cannon for self-defence. It is used by reconnaissance regiments of the Royal Armoured Corps and ‘recce’ elements of the armoured infantry.”
Who else is sending tanks to Ukraine?
Ukraine and Russia are both believed to be planning spring offensives to break the deadlock in what has become a war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine, as the first anniversary of the Russian invasion nears.
Fighting is now centred on the town of Bakhmut in the east, where Russia’s Wagner mercenaries and Ukrainian forces have been locked in battle.
Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, whose country neighbours Ukraine, said Warsaw would ask Germany for permission to re-export the Leopold 2 tanks to Kyiv during an EU meeting in Brussels.
But he added: “Even if we did not get this approval… we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine. The condition for us at the moment is to build at least a small coalition of countries.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrat party argues the West should avoid sudden moves that might escalate the war. But a number of allies reject that position, saying Russia is already fully committed to its assault on Ukraine.
Lithuanian foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, said the tanks should not be held up one more day, while Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said Russia could win the war if Europeans “don’t help Ukraine with what they need now”.
Defence analyst Konrad Muzyka said that if tanks were sent without Berlin’s consent, Germany could at some point refuse to supply spare parts for them, which was why Poland was hoping other countries would also send Leopards.
“The political problem for Germany if they wanted to cut off the supply of spare parts would be much bigger if there was a coalition,” he said.
American lawmakers pushed their government on Sunday to export M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, saying even a symbolic number would help push European allies to do the same.
French President, Emmanuel Macron, said he would not rule out the possibility of sending Leclerc tanks to Ukraine.