The Kremlin claims the West is now "directly involved in the war in Ukraine" after agreeing to send state-of-the-art tanks to the front lines to fight invading Russian forces.
Yesterday, after weeks of bitter power struggles, theThe United States and Germany eventually agreed to give in to Volodymyr Zelenskyy's demands.and send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, 14 Leopard 2 tanks and allow the Allies to send their own supplies. The agreement was hailed as a potential watershed in the conflict.
An enraged Russia lashed out at the deal, threatening to escalate the war beyond Ukraine's borders by launching a barrage of missiles into Kyiv overnight.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said today: “European capitals and Washington are constantly making statements that the deployment of various types of weapons, including tanks, in no way means their participation in hostilities. We expressly object to this. In Moscow, this is perceived as direct involvement in the conflict, and we see this growing.”
A missile flies over Kyiv this morning as Vladimir Putin retaliates for his tank trade with the West.
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Putin also angrily retaliated by firing rockets at Ukraine after an airstrike was launched across the country in the early hours.
Defense forces said they had shot down all 24 drones launched from Moscow, including 15 around Kyiv, with no damage reported so far as civilians took refuge in metro stations amid the shelling.
"The first Russian missiles were launched," said Andriy Yermak, head of Zelenskyy's office.
Russia has been targeting critical infrastructure with missile and drone strikes since October, causing widespread power outages and other interruptions during the harsh winter weather.
Despite the generous Western package, there are fears that Ukraine will not be able to get tanks to the front line for months after Russia's expected spring offensive.
The US-promised M1 Abrams tanks are not even available at the moment and will take months to arrive before training can begin, senior officials said.
An airstrike warning was issued over Ukraine early in the morning when defense units launched a series of missiles.
Defense forces said they shot down all 24 drones launched from Moscow, including 15 near Kyiv, with no damage reported so far.
People gather at a metro station used as an air raid shelter during a missile attack in Kyiv today
Ukrainian civilians wait at metro stations as Russia hits Kyiv with rockets.
Putin wasted no time in punishing Ukraine by exploding rockets overnight after a period of relative calm.
The fighting in Bakhmut intensified again after the agreement with the tanks escalated the war after a period of relative calm.
Modern tanks must be acquired, so the US will start a "comprehensive training program" for Ukrainian soldiers, who will also need spare parts and significant maintenance after deployment.
Leopard 2 tanks from Germany and Europe are likely to arrive sooner, but they still need training as Kiev forces have become accustomed to their Soviet-era tanks used in warfare so far.
Germany's tanks should be ready in three to four months, Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said.
The fact that Leopard 2, M1 Abrams and Challenger tanks will arrive in the coming months, each requiring separate parts and training, will complicate the situation for Ukraine.
Brad Martin, director of the RAND Institute for Supply Chain Security, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Unfortunately what this means is that each of these capabilities will need their own supply chains because they are different, their parts are requirements are different different.
“I don't know if it's such a challenge that it can't be tackled, but other things being equal, it would be better to have common systems, but they work with what they have.
"The United States has several Abrams tanks and some of them would need to be converted for export...
Germany will initially send 14 Leopard 2s to Ukraine and intends to supply a total of 80 tanks.
The United States will send dozens of M1A2 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in the coming weeks to help its war effort.
A Ukrainian soldier is on his way to the front with his armored vehicles as attacks continue.
That's what you're dealing with now, Putin: how America's Abrams, Germany's Leopard 2 and Britain's Challenger compare to Russia's antiquated T-72 tanks when sent to defend Ukraine. Click here to read more.
The 55-ton German Leopard 2 tank combines aspects of firepower, protection, speed and maneuverability, making it adaptable to many types of combat situations.
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“A lot of it is quite complicated and sophisticated, and it takes time to learn how to deal with it. Training will be a very big problem.
"Supply chains and parts sourcing take time, and those two things together will be challenging."
Western countries "have not provided clear indications" about how many tanks will be sent to Ukraine, an adviser to the country's defense ministry said.
Yuriy Sak told BBC Radio 4 Today: "We need 300 to 400 tanks for that to change.
“In this coalition of tanks, made up of different countries, we don't have clear indications of how many tanks each country will provide. We inform our partners that this is the number we need.
“If you want to stop the rocket terror, you must obtain the weapons that will allow us to defeat the enemy on the battlefield.
"The sooner we defeat Russia on the battlefield with Western weapons, the sooner we can stop this missile terror and restore peace."
Zelenskyy praised the US and German commitment to deploying tanks and urged the Allies to rapidly supply large numbers of tanks.
“The key right now is speed and volume. Speed in training our armed forces, speed in delivering tanks to Ukraine. The tank support numbers," he said in a late-night video address on Wednesday. "We must form a 'bazooka', a 'freedom fist'."
Ukraine has been looking for hundreds of modern tanks to give its troops the firepower they need to break through Russian defenses and retake occupied areas to the south and east. Ukraine and Russia mostly relied on Soviet-era T-72 tanks.
The promise of tanks comes as Ukraine and Russia are expected to launch new offensives in the war.
Zelensky followed up on Kiev's calls for more help, saying he had spoken to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and asked for long-range missiles and planes.
Ukraine's allies have already provided billions in military support, including sophisticated American missile systems.
The United States feared using the difficult-to-maintain Abrams, but it had to change course to persuade Germany to send its easier-to-operate Leopards to Ukraine.
Biden said the tanks "do not pose an offensive threat" to Russia and were needed to help Ukrainians "improve their ability to maneuver in open terrain".
Germany will send an initial company of 14 tanks from its stockpile and authorize deliveries from allied European states.
Abrams can be complicated, but Leopard was designed as a system that any NATO member could fix and train teams and fix specialists together in a single model, Ukrainian military expert Viktor Kevlyuk told Espreso TV.
"If they brought us to this club with these vehicles, I would say our prospects are good."
Russia reacted angrily to Germany's decision to agree to hand over the Leopards.
"This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation," said Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergei Nechayev.
Promises to Ukraine from other countries that have leopards have multiplied with announcements from Poland, Finland and Norway. Spain and the Netherlands have indicated that they are considering this.
A view shows a Puma infantry fighting vehicle during target practice at Altengrabow infantry fighting vehicle, Germany, today.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius is seen a day after finally agreeing to supply Ukraine with tanks.
Britain has offered 14 of its comparable Challenger tanks and France is considering sending its Leclercs.
Kyiv's government acknowledged on Wednesday that its forces had withdrawn from Soledar, a small salt mining town near Bakhmut in the east that Russia says it captured more than a week ago, its biggest gain in more than six years. months.
The Bakhmut area, with a pre-war population of 70,000, saw some of the most brutal fighting of the war.
The Ukrainian army said Russian forces attacked in the direction of Bakhmut "with the aim of capturing the entire Donetsk region and regardless of their own casualties".
The Russian-installed governor of Donetsk said earlier that Wagner treaty militia units from Russia are moving into Bakhmut and fighting on the outskirts and in neighborhoods recently occupied by Ukrainians.
Analyst Kevlyuk said the loss of Bakhmut would not change much in terms of the tactical scheme of things, but he was more concerned about Russia's efforts to regroup and concentrate resources in the Luhansk region.
Donetsk and Luhansk form the Donbass region. Russian forces control nearly all of Lugansk, while the Russians and their proxies say they control about half of Donetsk.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield reports.
The 11-month war has killed thousands of people, displaced millions from their homes and reduced cities to rubble.