Russians launch offensive in Zaporizhzhia as indecision continues over Leopard tanks

Russian forces have launched an offensive in the Zaporizhzhia region in southeast Ukraine as Kyiv condemns the failure of its allies to supply main battle tanks.

Moscow said it had launched “offensive operations” in the region on Saturday and claimed to control “more advantageous lines and positions”.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence also confirmed that both Ukraine and Russia had “massed significant forces” in the area and exchanged artillery fire and skirmishes.

Officials also suggested a “realistic possibility of local Russian advances around Bakhmut”.

Fighting has continued in the northeast, near Kremina, but defence officials have said the conflict remains in “a state of deadlock”.

Shelling attacks overnight in the Zaporizhzhia oblast targeted 21 cities and towns across the region.

Governor Oleksandr Starukh reported that one woman was killed in the attacks and two other civilians injured.

The civilian death toll in the conflict continues to rise. In the past 24 hours, five civilians have been killed and 13 wounded by Russian shelling in Ukraine’s east and south, according to the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko.

Foreign ministers from the Baltic States met at its annual Snow Meeting urging Germany’s leadership to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine (Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Foreign ministers from the Baltic States met at its annual Snow Meeting urging Germany’s leadership to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine (Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The fighting continues as intense diplomatic pressure on Germany has come from Western allies to supply Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukrainian forces.

Foreign ministers from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia met at its annual defence and security summit, issuing a joint statement calling on the German leadership to provide the tanks “now”.

In a tweet, Edgars Rinkevics, Latvian minister of foreign affairs, refered to Germany as “the leading European power” with “special responsibility in this regard”.

Further pressure on Olaf Schulz’s government has come from the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, who has stated Poland may send Leopard 2 tanks being used by the Polish army to Ukraine even without Berlin’s approval

Mr Morawiecki said: “Consent was of secondary importance. We will either obtain this consent quickly, or we will do it ourselves.”

Germany refused to commit to sending Leopard 2 battle tanks at the Ramstein summit of Ukraine’s allies (AP)
Germany refused to commit to sending Leopard 2 battle tanks at the Ramstein summit of Ukraine’s allies (AP)

The pleas for tanks come a day after a summit at the Ramstein airbase in Germany, where Ukraine failed in its efforts to receive a pledge from the German government to send tanks.

Germany’s defence minister, Boris Pistorious, speaking to reporters said: “We have to balance all the pros and contras before we decide things like that, just like that.”

The summit did certify agreement from 50 countries to provide Ukraine with a renewed package of billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware, including armoured vehicles, arms and munitions.

The UK, which was present at the summit, has been coordinating international support through an international fund, reported to have raised almost £600m with allies. Its first package of support from this joint fund is expected to be announced shortly.

President Zelensky has been critical of delays to sending main battle tanks to fight in the conflict (AFP/Getty)
President Zelensky has been critical of delays to sending main battle tanks to fight in the conflict (AFP/Getty)

Despite coordinated efforts, the indecision surrounding Leopard 2 tanks has been condemned by Ukraine’s leadership.

Following the summit on Friday, Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to President Zelensky tweeted: “Today’s indecision is killing more of our people. Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster.”

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Former army commander Maj General Tim Cross, a logistics specialist, gave one explanation for Germany’s reluctance to supply tanks.

Maj Cross said: “One can to an extent understand German reservations about the Leopards. The sight of German tanks rolling east across Ukraine would bring back some bad historic memories.

“But the Ukrainians will be getting tanks and tanks will play an important part in this conflict.”

Former head of the British Army, Gen Sir Peter Wall, also said after the summit: “We also need to remember that the full effect the Ukrainians are seeking will only come about if significant contributions of Leopard 2 tanks are forthcoming from other European nations as well.”

The US has warned Ukraine to hold off on launching further offensives until expanded access to new weaponry can be secured, reports say.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official from the Biden administration told reporters that the US believed an offensive would be more successful should the Ukrainians take advantage of training and an infusion of new weaponry.

President Biden has also said Ukraine will “get all the help they need”, having been asked about the continued pressure on Germany to supply tanks by a Polish reporter.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena offer relatives their condolences during the funeral ceremony of Ukrainian interior minister Denys Monastyrsky (AFP)
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena offer relatives their condolences during the funeral ceremony of Ukrainian interior minister Denys Monastyrsky (AFP)

Amid diplomatic pressure, Ukrainian officials in Kyiv were paying tribute to the late minister for the interior, Denys Monastyrsky, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Brovary on 18 January.

President Zelensky and his wife, Olena, offered condolences and support to relatives of the late minister, as well as the 13 other fatalities from the crash.

Head military of intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov described Monastyrsky’s death as a “huge loss”.

He continued: “If not for [Monastyrsky], everything could have been completely different. He is a true hero of this country.”