UK should send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, says Defence Committee chief

No final decision has been made over whether to supply Kyiv’s forces with British tanks, Downing Street said.

Sophie Wingate
Tuesday 10 January 2023 14:36 GMT
A Challenger 2 main battle tank (Ben Birchall/PA)
A Challenger 2 main battle tank (Ben Birchall/PA) (PA Archive)

Britain should “absolutely” supply Ukraine’s forces with heavy battle tanks and do “far more to put this fire out” in the country’s conflict with Russia, a senior Tory MP has said.

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said the West must take bold strategic decisions to support Kyiv in pushing back Russian forces, instead of “hesitantly creeping our way forward”.

It comes as the Government considers sending British Army Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine for the first time.

The Tory MP told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “This is our war, but we’ve left the Ukrainians to do the fighting.

We should be doing far more to put this fire out and we’re not doing that

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood

“It’s not just the moralistic issue here, it’s the fact that Russia is now pushing this against the wider West, so I very much welcome the fact that we’re now thinking about sending main battle tanks.

“It does show how far we’ve come in our willingness to look (Russian President Vladimir) Putin in the eye and not be spooked by his rhetoric, and we’re finally sending this much-needed serious hardware to Ukraine.

“Nato essentially has been benched. We should be doing far more to put this fire out and we’re not doing that.”

Downing Street declined to comment on what further equipment might be sent, but did not rule out tanks.

“We haven’t made any final decisions on provision of tanks at this stage,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

“For several months, we’ve been working with partners around the provision of tanks and armoured vehicles, artillery and air defence. And the Prime Minister spoke to President (Volodymyr) Zelensky just last week about what can be most effective in helping Ukraine continue their progress.”

Defence sources on Monday confirmed talks were taking place with the government in Kyiv regarding the possible supply of tanks, without providing any immediate detail on how many or when.

The Challenger 2 is “not the best tank in the world” but is “better than anything that Russians have got in Ukraine”, according to Michael Clarke, visiting war studies professor at King’s College London.

“It is one of those three or four big tanks in the world that can be used for offensive operations. And that’s the point here – that if the Ukrainians are to conduct a strategic offensive to really try to throw the Russians out in a big way from the territories they’ve conquered and occupied since February, then they must have a better force of tanks, backed up by armed and infantry fighting vehicles.”

If the supply of tanks goes ahead it would represent a significant stepping up of western support to Ukraine.

So far, Nato members have resisted supplying tanks because of concerns over the reaction in Moscow.

If Britain goes ahead, it could be a signal for other allies such as Germany and the US to follow suit.

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