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Ukraine live briefing: Germany, U.S. to send battle tanks; Ukraine confirms Soledar withdrawal

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2 days ago Adela Suliman, Rachel Pannett, Loveday Morris, David Stern, Claire Parker, Erin Cunningham, Kyle Rempfer

Berlin announced plans Wednesday to send German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine after weeks of international pressure. Germany will send 14 tanks from its own military stocks and begin training Ukrainian forces on German territory, the government said, adding that it would also “issue the appropriate transfer permits” enabling other European nations to reexport their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

The decision came as the Biden administration also announced that it would provide 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, despite previous concerns that they might require too much training and maintenance for Ukrainian forces.

U.S. will supply M1 tanks to Ukraine, as Germany approves Leopards

“To liberate their land, they need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term,” President Biden said of the Ukrainians in remarks at the White House.

In his evening address Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for the Leopard tanks and Biden for the Abrams tanks. “The key thing now is speed and volume,” Zelensky said. “The speed of training of our military; the speed of supplying tanks to Ukraine; the volume of tank support.”

On the battlefield, a Ukrainian military chief confirmed to The Washington Post that his forces had withdrawn from the eastern town of Soledar. Russia’s capture of the small salt mining city in the eastern Donetsk region marks its first significant territorial gain since July.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Germany aims to have the Leopard 2 tanks integrated on the battlefield by the end of March, the Defense Ministry said, helping arm Ukraine for a potential spring offensive. That leaves a tight window for logistics and training, which will begin in Germany “basically immediately,” said ministry spokesperson, Arne Collatz.
  • The M1 Abrams tanks are unlikely to arrive by spring when both Russian and Ukrainian forces are set to begin new offensives. They will be ordered from manufacturers rather than transferred from existing U.S. stocks, officials said.
  • Russia condemned the moves to send tanks to Ukraine. “This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation,” said Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Sergey Nechayev. In Moscow, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision left little prospect for a “diplomatic way out” of the war.
  • With tanks on the way, top Ukrainian officials have their eyes on Western aircraft. “We have new tasks ahead: Western-type fighter jets, sanctions, Peace Formula implementation,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday. The need for newer weapons was also raised by Zelensky after he said he spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “We have to unlock the supply of long-range missiles to Ukraine; it is important for us to expand our cooperation in artillery. We have to achieve the supply of aircraft to Ukraine,” Zelensky said during his Wednesday night address.
In this June 2022 file photo, a U.S. Army M1 Abrams tank fires a round during a military exercise in southwestern Morocco. © Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images In this June 2022 file photo, a U.S. Army M1 Abrams tank fires a round during a military exercise in southwestern Morocco.

2. Battleground updates

  • A senior French official expressed concern Wednesday that Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks may not be operable in Ukraine in time for increased fighting in the spring. France announced earlier this month that it would send its light AMX 10-RCs combat tanks to Ukraine. “Training for tanks takes a long time,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military matters. “Even if the Ukrainians have shown great agility and a very uncanny ability to absorb new equipment, it will necessarily take time.” Poland, which plans to send 14 tanks, aims to have its delivery on the ground in Ukraine by the end of March, a Polish security official confirmed to The Post.
  • Zelensky said the number of tanks and how long it will take to deliver them to Ukraine is “critical.” In an excerpt of an interview with Sky News, slated to air in full Thursday, he thanked Germany, Britain and the United States. “But speaking frankly, the number of tanks and the delivery time to Ukraine is critical,” he said.
  • Ukrainian forces withdrew from the eastern city of Soledar, military spokesman Sergiy Cherevaty told The Post on Wednesday. Ukrainian forces “withdrew in an organized manner and nothing chaotic. They withdrew and took up defense,” he said, adding that they had inflicted “colossal losses on the enemy.” The Post could not independently verify his claims. Cherevaty declined to say when the withdrawal took place.
  • In the Donetsk region, Ukrainian troops face “dozens of enemy attacks every day,” Zelensky said Wednesday. “This is where Russia is constantly trying to break our defense.” One of Russia’s objectives is to capture the entirety of the Donetsk region, territory claimed by one of its proxies in Donbas, according to the Institute for the Study of War think tank.
What to know about M1 Abrams tanks and why they matter to Ukraine

3. Global impact

  • Senior security officials from Germany, France, Britain and the United States met Wednesday in Washington to discuss Ukraine’s requests for more assistance. A statement from the White House said President Biden spoke with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom “as part of our close coordination on support for Ukraine.”
  • The historic center Ukraine’s Odessa was added Wednesday to a United Nations list of “World Heritage Sites in Danger,” after an accelerated procedure that paves the way for additional financial and technical assistance. “While the war continues, this inscription embodies our collective determination to ensure that this city, which has always surmounted global upheavals, is preserved from further destruction,” Audrey Azoulay, director general of UNESCO, said in a statement.
  • Two British men were killed while attempting to evacuate civilians in eastern Ukraine, according to a family statement. Andrew Bagshaw, a dual citizen of Britain and New Zealand, and Chris Parry were volunteers delivering humanitarian assistance to the front lines. The two men were last seen departing for the city of Soledar, the site of heavy fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces earlier this month.
  • The “Doomsday Clock” was set closer to midnight than ever before, with the Ukraine war one factor, said the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which created the initiative to symbolize how close humanity has come to the end of the world. They cited threats of nuclear war, disease, climate change and the war as putting humanity just 90 seconds from midnight — 10 seconds closer than in the previous three years.
  • Russian and Belarusian athletes can compete in the 2024 summer games as “neutral athletes” who “in no way represent their state,” the International Olympic Committee wrote in a multistep plan released Wednesday that aims to keep pressure on the Russian and Belarusian governments while not punishing individual athletes. “No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” the IOC wrote.
For Ukraine, what’s so special about Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks?

4. From our correspondents

These Russians, evading call-up to Ukraine, live in a Seoul airport: The Russian men now have inside jokes with the South Korean staff they see at 6 p.m. every day at the Burger King in Terminal 1. They spend their days walking around, smoking cigarettes or learning Korean. They wash their clothes with bathroom soap. For these five men who fled Russia to avoid conscription in the war against Ukraine, Incheon International Airport has been their temporary home for the past three months, The Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports.

They arrived at the airport, located about 32 miles west of Seoul, in October and November seeking asylum. But South Korea, which has a low rate of accepting refugees, deemed them unqualified to even apply and rejected their applications. The men appealed the decision, and three of them will find out on Tuesday whether their appeal will be accepted.

John Hudson, Vanessa Guinan-Bank, Rick Noack, Robyn Dixon, Emily Rauhala, Natalia Abbakumova and Amar Nadhir contributed to this report.

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