German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has made a surprise visit to Kyiv, where he announced that Ukraine is to receive more than 100 battle tanks of the older Leopard 1 type from several European countries.
The number of tanks is enough to equip at least three battalions, Pistorius said without naming the countries aside from Germany that will send the Leopard 1 tanks. They are to be shipped by the first or second quarter of 2024.
Pistorius, who took the job of defense minister less than three weeks ago, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov during his visit.
“Thank you to @Bundeskanzler my colleague Boris Pistorius and the German people. The tank coalition is marching…to victory!” Reznikov said on Twitter.
The German government last week said that it had approved the export of Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine but the government spokesperson who made the announcement declined to comment on the number of tanks that would be exported.
A joint statement issued by the Economy Ministry and the Defense Ministry said the export of up to 178 Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks to Ukraine had been approved. The statement added the exact number that will be delivered “depends on the required maintenance work.”
The Leopard 1s are not as advanced as Leopard 2s that Germany and other countries pledged to send Ukraine last month after the United States agreed to send M1 Abrams tanks. Germany initially showed reluctance to provide Leopard tanks or to allow third countries that have Leopard tanks to send them to Ukraine.
Reznikov’s tweet showed him and Pistorius holding a model of the Leopard 2, saying the “first” of the pledged battle tanks had arrived in Kyiv. “There will be more of them,” he added.
Ukraine has asked its Western allies for heavier weapons to confront invading Russian troops who continue to launch attacks along the front lines in eastern Ukraine. Kyiv’s military reported more attacks on February 7 as Ukrainian officials continued to warn that Moscow was preparing for a fresh offensive in the region.
Russia’s military launched six missile and 24 air strikes in the previous 24 hours, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian military early on February 7. The General Staff also reported 75 artillery strikes, including on civilian targets in the eastern and southeastern regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kherson. It said there had been an unspecified number of civilian casualties.
Later, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, reported that one person had been killed and five wounded as a result of overnight shelling in the Donetsk region.
The General Staff also said that 1,030 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine over the 24-hour period, although such casualty figures are impossible to verify.
The fresh fighting comes after Luhansk Governor Serhiy Hayday said that Russia is deploying reinforcements in eastern Ukraine ahead of a possible new offensive.
“We are seeing more and more (Russian) reserves being deployed in our direction, we are seeing more equipment being brought in,” Hayday told Ukrainian television on February 6.
“They bring ammunition that is used differently than before — it is not round-the-clock shelling anymore. They are slowly starting to save, getting ready for a full-scale offensive,” Hayday claimed.
Britain’s Defense Intelligence said in its daily report on February 7 that Russia’s military has likely attempted since early January to restart major offensive operations aimed at capturing Ukraine-held parts of Donetsk.
However, Russian forces have gained little territory as they “lack munitions and maneuver units required for a successful offensive”, it said.
Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces are fighting attempts by Russian troops to surround the city of Bakhmut and break the city’s defenses.
Speaking in his evening address on February 6, Zelenskiy thanked every soldier involved, singling out specific brigades.
Intense fighting has been raging for weeks around Bakhmut and the nearby towns of Soledar and Vuhledar, Ukraine’s presidential office said.
For months Russia’s main target in eastern Ukraine has been Bakhmut, where its state media said the Wagner mercenary group had gained a foothold.