A long-range rocket system, armored vehicles, a ground-based air defense system and now, tanks.
Almost a year after Russia invaded Ukraine, Britain is sending a squadron of 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, adding to an array of modern weapons that allies have provided for Kyiv.
Only months ago such aid was considered taboo, for fear that it would prompt Russia to escalate the war. But as Ukraine has persisted with its demands for weapons and made advances on the battlefield, its allies have fulfilled more and more of its requests.
“They have finally accepted that this going to be a long war unless they intervene with even more resources to speed up a Ukrainian victory,” said Mick Ryan, a military strategist and retired Australian army major general who is a fellow at the Lowy Institute, a research institute.
NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that after Britain’s commitment for heavy hardware, “I expect more in the near future,” according to an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt published on Sunday.
Britain’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, is leading the push, urging the United States, Canada and Europe to accelerate support for Ukraine. It is a critical moment in the war, his office said, as Russia is on the back foot on the battlefield because of supply issues and plummeting morale.
“As the people of Ukraine approach their second year living under relentless Russian bombardment, the prime minister is dedicated to ensuring Ukraine wins this war,” a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement on Saturday. Mr. Sunak “is clear that a long and static war only serves Russia’s ends.”
Mr. Sunak said Ukraine’s allies should deliver all the aid, both diplomatic and military, that they have planned to give Ukraine this year as soon as possible. Britain has said that in 2023 it plans to match or exceed the assistance that it provided Ukraine last year.
Kyiv has pleaded for Western tanks almost since the start of the war to supplement the Soviet-era and Russian-made tanks that were in Ukraine’s stockpiles or supplied by other countries in Eastern Europe. Those tanks are wearing out fast after months of battle.
Britain’s announcement was expected to ratchet up pressure on Germany to commit to sending its coveted Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, or to at least allow other European countries that have those German-made tanks to give them to Ukraine. The Polish government said this week that it wanted to give Ukraine some of its German-made tanks, although Berlin would need to allow it.
This week, Britain’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, will visit the United States and Canada to discuss how the three nations can coordinate even more closely on sanctions against Russia and military aid for Kyiv. The defense secretary, Ben Wallace, will head to Estonia and Germany to meet with NATO members and other allies.
British officials and commentators have largely welcomed Mr. Sunak’s decision.
“This is very late in the day,” Tobias Ellwood, chair of Britain’s Defense Select Committee told the BBC. “But we are becoming bolder, less risk reverse — less spooked by Putin’s rhetoric that any serious Western involvement could have repercussions.”
Mr. Sunak’s office said the tanks would go into the country in the coming weeks, adding that more shipments of guns and ammunition are expected to follow.
Britain will begin training Ukrainian forces to use the tanks and guns in the coming days, the prime minister’s office said, as part of wider efforts that have seen thousands of Ukrainian troops trained in Britain over the last six months. Mr. Wallace, the defense secretary, is scheduled to provide further details of Britain’s support for Ukraine in the House of Commons on Monday.
Lara Jakes, Isabella Kwai, Stephen Castle and Ben Hubbard contributed reporting.