Ukraine presidential adviser says country could use 'several hundred' tanks
Poland is considering sending German-made Leopard tanks to assist Ukraine
Ukraine needs several hundred tanks from its Western allies in order to conduct a counter-offensive against Russian forces to retake occupied territory, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's chief of staff said on Monday.
"We need tanks — not 10-20, but several hundred," the official, Andriy Yermak, wrote on the Telegram app. "Our goal is [restoring] the borders of 1991 and punishing the enemy, who will pay for their crimes."
Kyiv is pleading for supplies of tanks, in particular the German-made Leopard 2 that is used by many NATO members and requires Berlin's approval to be re-exported to Ukraine.
Poland's prime minister said on Monday his government would ask Germany for permission to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
Germany's foreign minister had said on Sunday that Berlin would not stand in the way if Poland wanted to do so, but a spokesperson for the German government on Monday said it had not yet received a formal request.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Warsaw would ask Germany for permission to re-export tanks to Ukraine, "but this is an issue of secondary importance."
"Even if we did not get this approval … we would still transfer our tanks together with others to Ukraine," he told reporters.
"The condition for us at the moment is to build at least a small coalition of countries."
Russia, Estonia in diplomatic row
Estonia and its Baltic neighbours Latvia and Lithuania have been among the NATO allies arguing strongly for Germany to provide its Leopard battle tanks.
On Monday, Russia said it was downgrading diplomatic relations with NATO member Estonia. The Kremlin accused the country of "total Russophobia," and its government responded by telling Moscow's envoy to the Baltic nation to leave.
"We will continue to support Ukraine as Russia is planning large-scale attacks, and we call on other like-minded countries to increase their assistance to Ukraine," Foreign Affairs Minister Urmas Reinsalu said in a statement.
Last April, Lithuania threw out its Russian envoy and downgraded diplomatic representation to the level of charge d'affaires, after Ukraine accused Russian forces of killing civilians in the town of Bucha.
Western allies pledged billions of dollars in weapons for Ukraine but they failed last week to persuade Germany to lift its veto on providing the tanks.
Leopards, held by an array of NATO countries, are seen by defence experts as the most suitable for Ukraine.
But in an apparent shift in Germany's position, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday her government would not block Poland if it tries to send its Leopards.
Ukraine says the heavily armoured battle tanks would give its ground troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive expected in the coming months.
American lawmakers pushed their government on Sunday to export M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine, saying that even sending a symbolic number would help push European allies to do the same. Washington has so far held off on promising its tanks, which run on fuel-hungry turbine engines it believes make less sense for Ukraine than Leopards.
Britain has said it would supply 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron said he did not rule out the possibility of sending Ukraine its Leclerc tanks. The British and French tanks are much less widely available than Leopards.
EU meets to consider Ukraine aid, Russian penalties
Both Russia and Ukraine are believed to be planning spring offensives to break deadlock in what has become a war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Current fighting is centred on the town of Bakhmut in the east, where Russia's Wagner mercenaries and Ukrainian forces have been locked in battle. Russia said on Sunday its forces were improving their positions in Ukraine's southern region of Zaporizhzhia.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers agreed in Brussels on Monday to allocate another 500 million euros ($726 million Cdn) of military aid. The foreign ministers also approved a further 45 million euros ($65 million Cdn) for "non-lethal equipment" for the EU's military training mission for Ukraine, Swedish and Czech officials said.
"We remain steadfast in our support for the Ukrainian Armed Forces," Sweden, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, tweeted.
Since its invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, which it has cast as defending itself from an aggressive West, Russia has taken control of parts of Ukraine and has said it will never return them. Ukraine has said that restoring its territorial integrity is not open for negotiation.