The U.K. is sending 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks, self-propelled artillery and thousands of rounds of ammunition to Ukraine with the goal of helping troops push back against Russian troops in the eastern and southern parts of the country, U.K.’s foreign minister said Tuesday.
The foreign ministry is focused on helping Ukraine end Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to take Ukraine by force, James Cleverly told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cleverly spoke at CSIS while in Washington, D.C., to meet his American counterparts at the State Department.
The U.K. wants to send a message to the Kremlin that it will keep its commitment to Kyiv until the Ukrainians are victorious over Russia.
“We believe the introduction of NATO main battle tanks will be decisive” in expected fighting this spring,” Cleverly, who remains a serving artillery officer in the United Kingdom’s reserve forces, said in response to a question.
Cleverly said he considers this to be a longer war than the nearly one year since Russia fully invaded its neighbor. Instead, Cleverly points to Putin’s aggression beginning with the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 where it maintains a large naval base and its continuing military and financial support of separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Negotiation to end the war, which started on Feb. 24, 2022, needs to be done properly or consequences will be more lives lost and money spent, Cleverly said. He added Moscow has increasingly targeted civilians with ballistic missile barrages in recent weeks.
Putin shows no sign of backing away from a “long, drawn out attritional war,” which was the best chance of victory in the spring, Cleverly said. Then, the Ukrainians with support from NATO countries and others rushed anti-armor weapons to blunt the assault aimed at capturing Kyiv and other eastern cities near the border with Russia and Belarus.
London’s support has changed as the conflict has reached nearly a year of fighting, Cleverly said. The country started by sending Javelins, now it is sending heavy armor.
When asked whether the United Kingdom or any other NATO country might be sending fighter aircraft and longer-range artillery systems soon to Ukraine, Cleverly said that the equipment sent to Ukraine will continue to evolve, but he did not answer the question.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his government’s ministers would be meeting with their counterparts in Washington, Paris and Berlin to discuss deploying more armor to the conflict, and other advanced systems and providing the training necessary for their use when he announced London was sending main battle tanks to Ukraine last week.
Following the announcement, Defense Minister Ben Wallace prodded Berlin to approve Poland’s shipping of its German-manufactured Leopard tanks to neighboring Ukraine.
Germany is sending Marder infantry fighting to Kyiv. For Berlin to get more actively involved in the conflict is a big step, given its 20th-century history, Cleverly said, adding it’s “an epoch-defining change.”
Cleverly said Germany’s support of the alliance’s decision to back Kyiv was further evidence that Putin’s belief that NATO would splinter over supporting Ukraine has proven false. It has caused Finland and Sweden to apply for formal membership in the alliance, he added.
The invasion “has been a tipping point for the alliance [and NATO] came out stronger” than before.