Ukraine is planning to ask Canada for some of its Leopard-2 main battle tanks, as soon as Germany drops its opposition to the re-export of the weaponry it manufactured.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Zelensky will make the request to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when the bureaucratic hurdle with Berlin is cleared.
Ukraine says it needs several hundred NATO-standard heavy tanks to push invading Russian troops off of its territory and bring an end to the nearly 11-month-old war. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, has thus far resisted pressure to allow the re-export of the German-made Leopards, fearing that providing NATO tanks to Ukraine could escalate the conflict.
Mr. Podolyak, however, was optimistic that Mr. Scholz’s government would eventually allow the Leopards to be transferred to Ukraine. Poland and Finland have already expressed their willingness to send some of their own Leopard-2 tanks to Ukraine, if and when Germany drops its objection. Canada, which has 82 Leopard-2s that it purchased from Germany in 2007, will be asked to do the same.
“Obviously, President Zelensky, who has friendly relations with the Prime Minister of Canada, will ask for heavy tanks. The first step of passing the armour should be up to Germany, because they are the owner of the technology. It should happen naturally, and Germany should take the lead in this process,” Mr. Podolyak said.
Daniel Minden, a spokesperson for Defence Minister Anita Anand, wouldn’t say whether Ottawa would provide these tanks if Germany gives the go-ahead. He said that Ms. Anand is in close contact with Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov about addressing Ukraine’s most pressing security needs.
“Canada will continue to stand with Ukraine, and we are identifying a variety of options to continue providing Ukraine with comprehensive military assistance,” Mr. Minden said.
While Germany has been repeatedly accused over the past year of dragging its heels on providing military support for Ukraine, Mr. Podolyak said he expected Mr. Scholz would soon give the necessary approval. “Germany is changing its attitude towards the war. Germany demonstrates a clearer anti-Russian position right now,” he said.
Mr. Podolyak made the remarks during a Saturday interview with The Globe inside the fortified Presidential Administration building in Kyiv, between two waves of Russian missile attacks on cities around Ukraine. The second barrage included a KH-22 missile – designed for ship-against-ship naval combat – that slammed into an apartment building in the central city of Dnipro, killing at least 30 people.
That number was expected to rise dramatically: Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov told Reuters that some 40 people were still trapped beneath the rubble, with “minimal” chances of being found alive. Civilian infrastructure in several other cities, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv and Odesa, was also struck by Russian missiles on Saturday.
The assault provoked international outrage, including from Canada. “Russia’s attacks on residential buildings in Dnipro, Ukraine are despicable, abhorrent and completely unacceptable,” Mr. Trudeau wrote Saturday on his Twitter account. “Canada condemns this violence unequivocally – we stand with the people of Ukraine, and we’ll continue to make sure they have the support they need.”
Ottawa has committed more than $1-billion in military aid to Ukraine since the start of the war. On Jan. 10, Mr. Trudeau’s office announced that the federal government had agreed to buy a $406-million National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System for Ukraine to help counter Russia’s missile and drone attacks.
Videos have also recently emerged that appear to show the first of 39 Armoured Combat Support Vehicles that Ottawa promised to provide Kyiv, moving somewhere along the muddy front. The ACSV in the video had no cannon, suggesting it was being used to move personnel around behind the front line.
Ukraine says its highest-priority need now is heavy armour. There’s hope in Kyiv that Berlin will announce its approval of the Leopard-2 transfers in time for a meeting of Ukraine’s allies in the German town of Ramstein on Friday, where countries are expected to announce further pledges of support for Ukraine.
Amid growing concern that Russia is mustering hundreds of thousands of fresh troops for a large-scale spring offensive, Mr. Podolyak said Ukraine needed between 250 and 400 NATO-standard tanks – which are technically far superior to the Soviet-era T-72s Ukraine has largely relied on thus far – to seize the initiative and force an end to Russia’s bloody invasion.
In addition to the Leopards promised by Poland and Finland, Britain has said it will send 14 of its Challenger-2 tanks to Ukraine, a move that the Russian embassy in London said would make the British tanks a “major target for Russian guns” while “provoking more and more victims, including among the civilian population.”
The U.S., which has taken the lead in providing military support to Ukraine, has balked at sending its cutting-edge M1 Abrams tanks, though the U.S., Germany and France have all agreed to supply Ukraine with Infantry Fighting Vehicles, which have smaller cannons than main battle tanks.
Mr. Podolyak said that if Ukraine receives the heavy armour it is seeking “the war will be faster, because there will be a hard and concentrated push on the temporarily occupied territory and Russia won’t be able to manoeuvre elsewhere. … It can shorten the war.”
But if Ukraine’s allies decide not to send the tanks out of fear of provoking Russia, “it will lead to massive civilian casualties all the time, over a long-term, medium-intensity conflict.”
With a report from Janice Dickson in Ottawa