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Biden spoke with German, French, British and Italian counterparts ahead of tank decision

The White House said that President Joe Biden spoke with his counterparts from Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom ahead of his announcement that Washington was ready to provide Ukraine with M1A1 Abrams tanks.

The addition of the U.S. tanks to the latest military aid package follows German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks.

Germany said its goal was to “quickly assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine.” The country will supply 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks in what it called a “first step.”

— Amanda Macias

U.S. will send Abrams tanks to Ukraine ahead of expected Russian offensive

A M1A2 SEP (V2) Abrams Main Battle Tank being unloaded in

Staff Sgt. Grady Jones | U.S. Army | Flickr CC

The Biden administration said it will equip Ukraine with the mighty M1A1 Abrams tank, a key reversal in the West’s effort to arm Kyiv as it prepares for a fresh Russian offensive.

The 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks, which amount to one Ukrainian tank battalion, will expand on the more than $26 billion the U.S. has committed to Kyiv’s fight since Russia invaded nearly a year ago.

The U.S. plans to purchase the new M1s using funds from the congressionally approved Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

It will “take some time” for the tanks to be delivered to Ukraine, a senior Biden administration official said Wednesday. “We are talking months as opposed to weeks,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Read the full story here.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine forces pull back from Donbas town after onslaught

Ukrainian tankers carry out maintenance on their tanks on the Donbas frontline.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukrainian forces have conducted an organized retreat from a town in the eastern region of the Donbas, an official said, in what amounted to a rare but modest battlefield triumph for Russia after a series of setbacks in its invasion that began almost 11 months ago.

The Ukrainian army retreated from the salt mining town of Soledar to “preserve the lives of personnel,” Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s forces in the east, told The Associated Press.

The soldiers pulled back to previously prepared defensive positions, he said. Russia claimed almost two weeks ago that its forces had taken Soledar, but Ukraine denied it.

Moscow has portrayed the battle for the town not far from the Donetsk province city of Bakhmut, as key to capturing all of Ukraine’s Donbas region, where Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian troops for almost nine years and controlled some territory before Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cited the safety of ethnic Russians living in Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk province, which together make up the Donbas, as justification for the invasion. Putin illegally annexed the Ukrainian provinces and two others in late September.

The withdrawal of Ukraine’s troops from Soledar takes the Russian forces a step closer to Bakhmut, but military analysts say the town’s capture is more symbolic than strategic. The fighting in eastern Ukraine has stood mostly at a stalemate for months.

— Associated Press

Russia furious that Western tanks will be given to Ukraine

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin speaks on the phone during a conversation with Agatha Bylkova from the Kurgan region, an 8-year-old participant of a New Year’s and Christmas charity event, in Moscow, Russia, January 3, 2023. 

Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik | Via Reuters

Russia expressed mounting fury at the prospect of modern Western tanks being sent to Ukraine, calling it “extremely dangerous” and saying previous “red lines” were now a thing of the past.

Germany announced earlier Wednesday that it was ready to send 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, and to allow other countries to send their own German-made tanks to Kyiv. The U.S. is also expected to announce imminently its own intention to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

The Russian Embassy in Berlin called the German government’s decision “extremely dangerous” and said it “takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation” while the foreign ministry warned that “red lines” were a “thing of the past” as it slammed what is saw as the West waging a “hybrid war” against Russia.

The use of modern Western tanks by Ukraine is likely to add momentum to its efforts to push Russian forces out of occupied areas of the country, particularly the eastern Donbas region, but Russia sees the gift of tanks as further evidence that the West is fighting what it sees as a proxy war against it in Ukraine.

Read more on the story here.

— Holly Ellyatt

Norway police release former Wagner commander from detention

Norwegian police said on Wednesday they would not seek to intern a former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group who recently fled to Norway, ordering him instead to stay at a secret location for security reasons.

Andrei Medvedev fled Russia by crossing into Norway on Jan. 13. He has said he fears for his life after witnessing what he said was the killing and mistreatment of Russian prisoners brought to the front lines in Ukraine to fight for Wagner.

On Monday police said he was detained by immigration police and held at the Trandum immigration detention centre outside Oslo, due to “disagreement” about measures taken to ensure his safety.

Trandum is where asylum seekers who have been turned down are held before they are deported. Police have denied suggestions Medvedev might be deported to Russia.

A pedestrian walks past a mural depicting the logo of the Russian mercenary ‘Group Wagner’ and a slogan in Russian by the informal pro-Russia organisation ‘Narodna Patrola (lit.: People Patrol), on January 20, 2023 in Belgrade, Serbia.

Srdjan Stevanovic | Getty Images

“The police’s immigration unit releases Medvedev from … Trandum under an order to be at a specific place of residence,” police said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Police had until Wednesday to decide whether to seek a court order to intern him.

Medvedev’s Norwegian lawyer, Brynjulf Risnes, was not immediately available for comment.

On Monday, Risnes had said Medvedev had been detained due to “disagreement” about measures taken to ensure his safety and said that there was “zero chance” he would be deported to Russia.

— Reuters

Zelenskyy expresses gratitude to Germany for tanks

Ukraine’s President Volodymy Zelenskyy thanked Germany and Chancellor Olaf Scholz for its decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and to allow other countries to re-export their own German-made tanks.

“German main battle tanks, further broadening of defense support & training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important & timely decisions in a call with @OlafScholz,” Zelensyy said on Telegram, adding that he was “sincerely grateful” to the chancellor and Germany for the decision.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal also expressed his thanks to Berlin, saying Ukraine now expected “to involve a wide range of partners in the tank coalition in order to obtain as many tanks as possible in the shortest possible time.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meet for a working session in Mariinsky Palace, in Kyiv, Ukraine June 16, 2022.

Ludovic Marin | Reuters

Germany released a statement on the phone call between President Zelenskyy and Chancellor Scholz earlier today, saying the leaders had “exchanged views on the political, military and humanitarian situation in Ukraine.”

 “The Chancellor reiterated unwavering solidarity with Ukraine in the face of Russian Federation’s aggression and announced that Germany will continue to increase military support to Ukraine in close coordination with European and international partners,” the statement read.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukrainian official confirms retreat from Soledar

A Ukrainian multiple-launch rocket system is hiding among the trees near Soledar as the fighting in the Donbas region continues.

Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

An official has confirmed that Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from the town of Soledar in Donetsk but said they had done so to save personnel.

Speaking to NBC News, Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson of the Eastern Group of Ukrainian Armed Forces, said the withdrawal had taken place “in order to preserve the lives of the personnel, the Defense Forces moved away from Soledar and are now staying on previously prepared defense lines.”

Cherevatyi said the defenders of Soledar, where fighting has been intense for weeks, had performed a “real feat” holding their positions in the town and inflicting “huge losses” on Russia, given they were fighting Russian forces that that were up to five times larger.

—  Holly Ellyatt

Netherlands also prepared to supply battle tanks to Ukraine, PM says

Europe needs to do more to support Ukraine, according to the Dutch prime minister.

Bloomberg / Contributor / Getty Images

The Netherlands is prepared to deliver battle tanks to Ukraine if needed, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday.

“If a contribution from the Netherlands helps, we are prepared to do so,” Rutte told Dutch broadcaster RTL.

Rutte said the Netherlands could opt to buy tanks it currently leases from Germany, and supply those to Ukraine.

— Reuters

Germany’s tank decision welcomed by allies

A Leopard 2 tank is seen during a visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to NATO’s new spearhead force “VJTF 2019” in Munster, Germany May 20, 2019. 

Fabian Bimmer | Reuters

Germany’s decision to offer a number of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, and to allow other countries with the same weaponry to send their own stocks to Kyiv, has been greeted positively.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki hailed the move as a “big step.” Poland had already sent a request to Germany on Tuesday asking if it could send 14 of its own German-made Leopards to Ukraine before Berlin’s announcement.

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner wrote on Twitter that battle tanks for Ukraine would strengthen the country and said “it is an important step that the US participates alongside the #Leopard.”

Meanwhile, the vice president of the German Bundestag and Greens member, Katrin Goering-Eckardt, tweeted “the Leopard’s freed” and that “hopefully now it can quickly help Ukraine in its fight against the Russian attack and for the freedom of Ukraine and Europe.”

The U.K.’s defense secretary also said he was “delighted” at Germany’s decision.

There has been no official response from Ukraine’s president yet but Kyiv will be pleased with Germany’s decision as it paves the wave for other allies to send their own German-made tanks to Ukraine.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, simply tweeted a leopard emoji.

— Holly Ellyatt

Germany announces it will send 14 of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech in front of a Leopard 2 tank during a visit to a military base of the German army Bundeswehr in Bergen, Germany, October 17, 2022. 

Fabian Bimmer | Reuters

Germany has announced that it is ready to send 14 of its own tanks to Ukraine and to allow others to do so, in an U-turn from its previous position.

Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Wednesday that Germany will provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 tanks out of its own Bundeswehr (German armed forces) stocks.

Here is the statement from the Germany government, translated by NBC News:

Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in the cabinet on Wednesday that Germany will continue to increase military support for Ukraine. The federal government has decided to provide the Ukrainian armed forces with Leopard 2 main battle tanks. This is the result of intensive consultations that took place with Germany’s closest European and international partners.

“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally,” said the Chancellor in Berlin.

The goal is to quickly assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine. As a first step, Germany will provide a company with 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks. Other European partners will also hand over Leopard-2 tanks. The training of the Ukrainian units is to begin quickly in Germany. In addition to training, the package will also include logistics, ammunition and system maintenance.

Germany will issue the appropriate transfer permits to partner countries that want to quickly deliver Leopard 2 tanks from their stocks to Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Relentless Russian shelling of Ukraine continues as tanks are in focus

Ukrainian soldiers are seen on their ways to frontlines with their armoured military vehicles as the strikes continue on the Donbas frontline.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

While international news headlines are focusing on the issue of tanks for Kyiv, the country continues to experience missile strikes on the north, northeast, east and south.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported Wednesday that Russian forces had launched four missile and 26 air strikes over the past 24 hours and more than 100 strikes using multiple launch rocket systems, an update noted.

There had been “multiple attacks” by Russia in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of eastern Ukraine, the updated noted.

“The threat of Russian air and missile attacks remains high across Ukraine,” the update said, adding that “despite numerous losses, Russia does not cease attempts to advance on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Novopavlivka axes. However, the enemy stays on the defensive on Kup’yans’k, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson axes.”

Other regional officials reported shelling in Kherson city and the rest of the southern region, with Yaroslav Yanushevych, the head of the Kherson regional military administration reporting on Telegram that the region was shelled 52 times yesterday, and that shells had hit a maternity hospital, school, polyclinic, seaport and residential building, leaving one civilian dead and six others injured.

In Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine, the Head of the Regional Military Administration Oleh Synehubov said on Telegram a number of settlements have been shelled overnight and early Wednesday morning, causing damage to residential and industrial areas and injuring two people.

The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said Wednesday that the northern border regions of Sumy and Chernihiv had been shelled the previous day.

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the information.

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. tanks for Ukraine would be seen as a ‘blatant provocation,’ Russian official says

Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov speaks during a discussion about the legacy of Anatoly Dobrynin on Nov. 18, 2019, in Washington, DC.

Mark Wilson | Getty Images News | Getty Images

A top Russian official has said that any delivery of American tanks to Ukraine would be seen as “another blatant provocation” by the West.

“If the United States decides to supply tanks, it will be impossible to justify such step using arguments about ‘defensive weapons’,” Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said on Telegram Wednesday.

“This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation. No one should have illusions about who is the real aggressor in the current conflict,” he claimed.

The U.S. is expected to announce soon that it will send a number of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, with Germany expected to say Wednesday that it is ready to send Leopard 2 tanks. The decision to send tanks comes after months of requests from Kyiv, and as Russia is expected to launch new offensives in Ukraine in spring.

The Russian ambassador to the U.S. is a vocal critic of the West, claiming that “Washington is deliberately trying to inflict strategic defeat on us.” He said American tanks would be “destroyed as all other samples of NATO military equipment.”

Ukraine’s NATO allies have supported Ukraine throughout the war with billions of dollars’ worth of military and financial aid, fearing that a victory for Russia in Ukraine could only spur on Moscow’s apparently expansionist aims in other former Soviet republics like Georgia and Moldova.

— Holly Ellyatt

Missing British aid workers confirmed to have died in Ukraine

Two British aid workers have died in Ukraine as they attempted to evacute civilians from a fighting hot spot in eastern Ukraine.

Chris Parry, 28, and Andrew Bagshaw, 47, were reported missing on Jan. 7. They were last seen heading to the town of Soledar in Donetsk that was under intense attack by Russian forces and later captured.

A statement issued by Parry’s family Tuesday confirmed their deaths, saying the men had been killed “whilst attempting a humanitarian evacuation from Soledar, eastern Ukraine.” A statement issued by Bagshaw’s family, and reported by Sky News, said the pair’s car was hit by an artillery shell while they were attempting to rescue an elderly woman. Both families praised the men’s bravery and selflessness.

Destroyed buildings in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on Nov. 20, 2022.

Diego Herrera Carcedo/ | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Concerns over the men’s safety were raised after the Russian private military company known as the Wagner Group said soon after the pair went missing that it had found the body of one of the aid workers and showed images of the men’s British passports on the messaging app Telegram.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia is ‘preparing for a new wave of aggression,’ Zelenskyy says

Soldiers prepare to head out near the Bakhmut front lines with Russia on Jan. 22, 2023 in Chasov Yar, Ukraine. Russia has stepped up its offensive in the Donetsk region in the new year, with the region’s Kyiv-appointed governor accusing Russia of using scorched-earth tactics.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russia is preparing for new offensives in Ukraine, with increased activity already seen in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday.

“Russia is preparing for a new wave of aggression – with the forces it can mobilize,” Zelenskyy warned in his nightly address. 

“Now the occupiers are already increasing the pressure around Bakhmut and Vuhledar and other directions. And they want to increase the pressure on a larger scale,” Zelenskyy said, adding that Russia wants to “throw more of their people and equipment into combat operations.”

There has been intense fighting around Bakhmut in Donetsk for months. Capturing the town is a strategic goal for Russian forces wanting to seize the entire Donetsk region and neighboring Luhansk, which together make up the Donbas. Russian forces have claimed several tactical advances in Donetsk in recent weeks, including the capture of Soledar.

Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine says it needs a decision on tanks

After more indecision from Ukraine’s allies regarding the delivery of tanks to Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday that allies need to decide on whether they will deliver modern battle tanks to Ukraine.

“There is a lot of talk about tanks. About the modern tanks that we need. And about how this deficit can be filled. A lot of efforts, words, promises,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Tuesday.

“But it is important to see the reality: it is not about five, or ten, or fifteen tanks. The need is greater. We are doing what is necessary every day to fill the deficit … However, discussions must be concluded with decisions. Decisions on real strengthening of our defense against terrorists,” as Ukraine labels Russia’s leadership.

“Allies have the required number of tanks. When the weight of decisions is necessary, we will be happy to thank you for each weighty decision,” he said.

Boris Pistorius (right) German defense minister, and Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general, give a press conference at the German Defense Ministry after a joint meeting on Jan. 24, 2023.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Germany’s defense minister said Tuesday morning that the country’s position had not changed regarding the sending of German-made tanks to Ukraine, but by the evening there were reports suggesting a U-turn in Berlin, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz expected to make a formal announcement Wednesday. In the U.S. too, reports suggested Washington was also ready to send M1 Abrams tanks.

Whether the number of tanks that are provided is enough is another matter, however. Ukraine previously said it needs hundreds of tanks to stave off Russia’s ongoing invasion “not 10-20,” as one presidential advisor said earlier this week.

— Holly Ellyatt

Biden administration preparing to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine, officials tell NBC News

U.S. soldiers fire from an M1 Abrams main battle tank.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

The Biden administration is preparing to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine, three senior U.S. officials tell NBC News.

The decision to equip Kyiv with the weapons platform could come as early as Wednesday, the officials said, adding that the exact number of tanks in the administration’s latest security package was still under deliberation.

What’s more, the mighty M1A1 tanks will not be available to the Ukrainians for several months due to the colossal logistics and training requirements.

Read the full story from NBC News here.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. reiterates support for Finland, Sweden joining NATO

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price speaks during a news conference in Washington, U.S. March 10, 2022.

Manuel Balce Ceneta | Reuters

The Biden administration reiterated its support for both Finland and Sweden joining NATO at the earliest opportunity, after Helsinki said a pause was needed in trilateral talks with Turkey on the Nordic countries’ application to join the military alliance.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price was repeatedly asked at a news briefing whether Washington would support Finland’s possible accession without Sweden, but declined to comment on what he called a “hypothetical” and not a “live question right now.”

“This has always been a discussion about Finland and Sweden… (about) moving from an alliance of 28 to an alliance of 30. That’s what we want to see happen,” Price said, adding that Finland joining NATO separately “is just a question that we’re not entertaining.”

Turkey’s president said Sweden should not expect his country’s support after a protest near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm at the weekend, which included the burning of a copy of the Koran.

— Reuters

Replacing weapons NATO allies sent to Ukraine could yield $21.7 billion in U.S. defense sales

Ukraine was already stocking up on U.S.-made Javelins before Russia invaded. Here a group of Ukrainian servicemen take a shipment of Javelins in early February, as Russia positioned troops on Ukraine’s border.

Sergei Supinsky | AFP | Getty Images

Replacing weapons and other equipment NATO countries sent to Ukraine could lead to nearly $22 billion in sales for the U.S. defense industry, according to a report from the think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power also said that restoring the NATO allies’ arsenals could also lower the Pentagon’s cost of obtaining weapons.

“It would also enhance the quality of the weapons U.S. warfighters wield and strengthen U.S. defense industrial base capacity,” the authors of the report added.

— Amanda Macias

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