Boris Johnson says the UK is looking at sending British tanks to Poland – after it was revealed Ukrainian troops are in Britain being trained for the first time since the start of the Russian invasion.
Speaking during a news conference in New Delhi, where he held talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister today said the Government was contemplating sending Challenger 2 tanks to eastern Europe to replace Soviet-era T-72 tanks the Poles are shipping to Ukraine.
Mr Johnson told reporters: ‘I think perhaps what I haven’t said publicly before is we’re also looking more at what we can do to backfill in countries such as Poland who may want to send heavier weaponry to help defend the Ukrainians.
‘So we’re looking at sending tanks to Poland to help them as they sending some of their T-72s to Ukraine.’
The Challenger 2 tank has been the mainstay of the British Army since the 1990s and saw action in the Iraq War. The 64-tonne vehicles are due to go out of service in 2025, but the Army still has a fleet of more than 200.
Ministers had considered donating the tanks directly to Ukraine. However Ukrainian forces are not trained in their use and there were also concerns about their ability to repair them. Instead, Ukraine will receive familiar tanks from Poland and other Eastern European states.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meanwhile said he feared that sending tanks directly to Ukraine could spark a third world war.
The UK is already one of the biggest donors of weapons to Ukraine, with the Ministry of Defence supplying hundreds of anti-tank missiles, along with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, ammunition and medical supplies.
It comes as it was yesterday revealed that Ukrainian troops are in Britain being trained to use armoured vehicles supplied by the Ministry of Defence to repel Vladimir Putin’s forces.
More than 20 soldiers arrived last week in the UK for training on the 120 vehicles being supplied to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s resistance as Boris Johnson steps up military support to help in the war.
As well as being trained on the Mastiff, Wolfhound and Husky armoured vehicles, the Ukrainians will be shown how to use the Samaritan ambulance, and Sultan and Samson armoured reconnaissance vehicles.
The Prime Minister confirmed last night for the first time that Ukrainian forces were in the UK to journalists travelling with him in India, where he is pressing for a loosening of ties with Russia.
‘I can say that we’re currently training Ukrainians in Poland in the use of the anti-aircraft defences and actually in this country (the UK) in the use of the armoured vehicles,’ he told reporters.
Further Ukrainian forces are expected to be making their way to the UK for training in the future. The Prime Minister’s press secretary said ‘a couple of dozen’ Ukrainians were currently in the UK for training.
In other developments:
- The Kremlin revealed terrifying plans to seize Ukraine’s entire southern coast and to invade Moldova, where it claims Russian speakers are being oppressed;
- Columns of Russian tanks patrolled Mariupol as reports claimed 9,000 Ukrainians may be buried in mass graves there;
- Moscow refused Ukraine’s offer of a four-day truce over the Orthodox Easter weekend;
- Russia’s armed forces have suffered more than 13,000 deaths, with another 7,000 troops said to be missing in action, according to a pro-Kremlin website, which later deleted the claim.
The Challenger 2 tank has been the mainstay of the British Army since the 1990s and saw action in the Iraq War. The 64-tonne vehicles are due to go out of service in 2025, but the Army still has a fleet of more than 200
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi today
The UK is already one of the biggest donors of weapons to Ukraine, with the Ministry of Defence supplying hundreds of anti-tank missiles, along with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, ammunition and medical supplies
A Mastiff armoured vehicle (pictured at Kandahar base in Afghanistan in 2007) is among the vehicles being used in training
Wolfhound armoured vehicles (pictured at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan in 2010) are also being used for training Ukrainians
The Husky armoured vehicle (pictured in a Military of Defence handout image in 2009) will also be used in the training
The Ukrainian soldiers will also be shown how to use the Samaritan ambulance (pictured at Salisbury Plain in 2015)
The Sultan command and control vehicle (pictured on Salisbury Plain in July last year) will also be used in the training
Another vehicle used in training is the Samson armoured reconnaissance vehicle (pictured in a display in Wiltshire in 2020)
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: ‘We are moving in conjunction with our allies providing new types of equipment that perhaps the Ukrainians wouldn’t have had previous experience on. So it’s only sensible that they get the requisite training to get the best use of it.’
He downplayed concerns the move could be seen as escalatory by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
‘We’re always conscious of anything that’s perceived to be escalatory but clearly what’s escalatory is the actions of Putin and his regime,’ the spokesman said.
‘We’re simply working together with our allies to give Ukraine the tools to defend themselves.’
Mr Johnson, who remains under pressure over parties at his Downing Street residence during Covid-19 lockdowns, has established close ties with Mr Zelensky, talking to him regularly by phone and visiting him in Kyiv.
Last night the Prime Minister warned that Russia’s bombardment could continue until the end of next year – and Moscow could win the war.
At a press conference in Delhi at the end of a two-day diplomatic visit to India, the PM was asked about Western intelligence that Russia could claim victory by consolidating control over the Donbas and Crimea.
Mr Johnson admitted it was a ‘realistic possibility’, but said Vladimir Putin would not be able to ‘conquer the spirit of the Ukrainian people’.
It came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he feared that sending tanks directly to Ukraine could spark a third world war.
He said: ‘I said very early on that we must do everything possible to avoid a direct military confrontation between Nato and a highly armed superpower like Russia, a nuclear power. I am doing everything to prevent an escalation leading to a third world war. There must be no nuclear war.’
Mr Zelensky has accused Germany of dragging its feet because of its economic ties with Russia.
Yesterday Tobias Ellwood, chair of the Defence Select Committee of the Commons, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he welcomed the ‘upgrade’ in the UK’s support for Ukraine.
The Conservative MP, who is also a former defence minister and soldier himself, added: ‘It’s consistent with a fine track record from the MoD in assisting Ukraine that actually went back, started in 2014. We’ve become more bolder, more confident, less risk averse and we’re now thinking long term.
‘This does come at a critical time – Russia is regrouping, focusing on the Donbas region in its kinetic efforts and also when Ukrainians are coming under increasing pressure and President Zelensky is actually calling for more Nato help.
‘I visited Warsaw with the Defence Select Committee very recently… this was fascinating to learn that Poland wanted to do more, they were frustrated with Nato not doing enough itself and I’m pleased that we’re taking this forward ourself.’
A woman stands on the balcony of her apartment yesterday which was damaged after a Russian bombardment in Kharkiv
A man rides his bicycle next to a destroyed Russian tank in Chernihiv, Ukraine, yesterday as the conflict continues
Ukrainian soldiers examine Russian multiple missiles abandoned by Russian troops, in the village of Berezivka yesterday
Members of the Ukrainian government visited a military camp earlier this month on Salisbury Plain where they were shown demonstrations of equipment, followed by discussions on how the government can supply weapons.
Britain’s military has been training Ukrainian forces since the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
They were withdrawn in February to avoid direct conflict with Russian forces and the possibility of Nato being drawn into the conflict.
Since the start of the war, Britain has provided Ukraine with anti-ship, anti-aircraft and light anti-tank weapons, which have been used by mobile Ukrainian fighters against Russia’s armoured vehicles.
The United States military is also training Ukrainian troops on using howitzer artillery while Britain is training Ukrainians in Poland to use anti-aircraft weapons.
Speaking about the context of the UK’s extra military help, Mr Ellwood told Radio 4: ‘It does draw Britain further into this conflict, it places extra burdens on our own Armed Forces, our own stockpiles – that was not planned for.
‘And as conflict moves from weeks to months, we must now look to updating our own defence posture, indeed our own defence spending in recognition of that change.’
He said that the ‘bigger question – not answered by Nato or indeed us is what does success look like?’
Mr Ellwood continued: ‘We are doing enough to prevent Ukraine from losing but not enough to ensure they win, so what does our long-term mission objective look like?
‘Is it pushing Russia back to pre-February lines, or liberating the entire Donbas region – and that’s absolutely critical, in how we chose to up arm the Ukrainians, which I absolutely support.
‘But there is an absence of overall strategy for which the UK and indeed Nato assistance needs to work towards. For me, Putin will not stop until he is stopped – and he has clear intentions to go beyond Ukraine.
‘He’s got China’s backing – we are entering a new era of insecurity, and we need to help Ukraine absolutely win rather than just defend the current lines.’
As the conflict continued in Ukraine, local officials in Mariupol accused Russia of burying up to 9,000 Ukrainian civilians to conceal the slaughter taking place in the ruined port city that is almost entirely under Russian control.
The images emerged just hours after Mr Putin claimed victory in the battle for Mariupol, despite the presence of an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters who are still holed up at a giant steel mill.
After nearly two months of bombardment that largely reduced Mariupol to a smoking ruin, Russian forces appear to control the rest of the strategic southern city, including its vital but now badly damaged port.
But a few thousand Ukrainian troops, by Moscow’s estimate, have stubbornly held out for weeks at the steel factory, despite a pummelling from Russian forces and repeated demands for their surrender.
About 1,000 civilians are also trapped there, according to Ukrainian officials.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly accused Russia of launching attacks to block civilian evacuations from Mariupol.
Russian officials for weeks have said capturing the Donbas region is the war’s main objective. Moscow’s forces opened the new phase of the fighting this week along a 300-mile front from the north-eastern city of Kharkiv to the Azov Sea.
While Russia continued heavy air and artillery attacks in those areas, it did not appear to gain any significant ground over the past few days, according to military analysts, who said Moscow’s forces are still ramping up the offensive.