KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands announced Tuesday that they plan to provide Ukraine with at least 100 refurbished Leopard 1 battle tanks in the coming months, a pledge that comes as Kyiv anticipates a new Russian offensive around the anniversary of its invasion.
The announcement followed Germany agreeing last month to allow deliveries of the more modern German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
In a joint statement, the defense ministers of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands said the shipment of the older Leopard 1 tanks was part of an effort “to support Ukraine in their endeavor to withstand Russian aggression.”
“(It) will significantly enhance Ukraine’s military potential for the restoration of their violated territorial integrity,” they said, adding that the delivery would occur “within the coming months” and include logistical support and training.
Ukrainian officials say they expect Russian forces to make a new drive in eastern and southern Ukraine, as the Kremlin strives to secure territory it illegally annexed in late September and where it claims its rule is welcomed.
The anticipated Russian push may seek to recapture territory Moscow lost in a late summer counteroffensive. Battlefield setbacks in Ukraine have embarrassed the Kremlin, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is keen to cement public support for the war.
Some Western military analysts were skeptical, however, of Russia’s ability to mount a large new offensive in coming weeks, particularly in time for the Feb. 24 anniversary, that might alter the course of the war. Ukraine and Russia are both still training their new troops and amassing weapons.
News agency dpa quoted Germany’s defense minister, Boris Pistorius, as saying during a visit to Kyiv on Tuesday that the first 20-25 Leopard 1 tanks would reach Ukraine this summer.
Pistorius’ office said German authorities have authorized the export of up to 178 Leopard 1 A5 tanks to Ukraine, but noted that the actual number sent would depend on the refurbishments required.
The three countries that made the pledge said Belgium has also shown interest in participating in the initiative.
The Leopard 1, manufactured between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s, was the first battle tank built for West Germany’s Bundeswehr. The German military hasn’t had any of the tanks since 2003.
Germany last month agreed to send 14 newer Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its military’s current stocks. The country’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday that the first Leopard 2s could arrive in Ukraine by the end of March. The first Ukrainian soldiers to be trained on the tanks departed for Germany this week.
Several other European countries have equipped their armies with Leopard 2s, and Germany’s move following weeks of mounting pressure meant that those nations could also give some of their stocks to Ukraine.
In some of the latest fighting in Ukraine, local authorities reported Tuesday that Russian shelling damaged a hospital and apartment buildings.
The shelling in the northeastern town of Vovchansk caused multiple fires late Monday, including at the two-story municipal hospital, the regional State Emergency Service said in an online statement.
Emergency crews evacuated eight civilians from the site before putting out the blaze, which caused no casualties, authorities said.
Vovchansk is in the Kharkiv region, which was occupied by Russia after its full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24 and subsequently retaken by Ukraine in the course of its counteroffensive.
Russian forces are “regrouping” as they attempt to break Ukrainian lines in five areas in the country’s east and northeast, the Ukrainian military reported Tuesday.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said Moscow was focusing its efforts near the towns of Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Novopavlivka in the eastern Donetsk province, as well as Kupiansk in Kharkiv province.
In the Donetsk region, Russian forces also kept up their shelling of Vuhledar, a mining town that has become one of Moscow’s key targets, the Ukrainian presidential office said. Five apartment buildings were destroyed in the town, the office said, which had a prewar population of 14,000.
Donetsk province has seen a marked influx of Russian troops in the past few days, according to Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko.
“The transfer of Russian army units goes on day and night. (Russian) shelling intensifies, pressure from the Russians intensifies each day,” Kyrylenko said on Ukrainian television.
Russia is also preparing for a major offensive in Luhansk province, which is directly north of Donetsk, Gov. Serhii Haidai said in televised remarks.
The number of Russian attacks in the province increased “dramatically” on Monday and overnight, he said.
“The occupiers are looking for weak points and have brought a lot of equipment and thousands of troops to the front line,” Haidai said.
About 60,000 households in Marhanets were left without water after Russian shelling near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant cut the power supply to a local pumping station, authorities reported.
Mykola Lukashuk, who heads the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Council, accused Russian forces of firing on towns and villages neighboring the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear facility, with heavy artillery and multiple rocket-launchers overnight.
The U.K. Ministry of Defense said in an assessment Tuesday that Russia is “requiring undermanned, inexperienced units to achieve unrealistic objectives due to political and professional pressure.”
“Russian leaders will likely continue to demand sweeping advances,” it added. “It remains unlikely that Russia can build up the forces needed to substantially affect the outcome of the war within the coming weeks.”
Michael Kofman, an American military analyst and director of Russia Studies at the CAN research organization in Arlington, Virginia, tweeted on Monday it was unclear how big an offensive Russia is able to mount.
He added, “but I suspect it may prove underwhelming, focused largely on the Donbas.”
Michael Clarke, visiting professor of war studies at King’s College London, said he would be “amazed, I mean, truly amazed, if (the Russians) are in any shape to launch a strategic offensive on the 24th.”
He acknowledged Moscow has been scaling up its troop deployment in Ukraine and said Russia could also launch local offensives or major air attacks. But he recalled that Russian commanders are still smarting from their failed attempt early in the war to take Kyiv and topple the Ukrainian government.
He said that “military planners in Russia will be aware that when they start this new offensive, they’ve got to get it right.
“After the fiasco of the first (offensive), it would be better to leave it and go late than go early and make a mess of it again,” Clarke told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday appointed national police chief Ihor Klymenko as the country’s new interior minister. Klymenko had served as acting interior minister since the Jan. 18 death of his predecessor, Denys Monastyrskyi, in a helicopter crash on the outskirts of Kyiv.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs controls the police and border forces, National Guard, and emergency response service.
Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, also appointed Vasyl Malyuk to lead Ukraine’s main security agency.