Ottawa will donate four of the Canadian Forces’ Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks to Ukraine as Kyiv continues to defend itself against invading Russian forces.
National Defence Minister Anita Anand made the commitment on Thursday, ending the debate over whether Canada would ship battle tanks from its military stockpile to Ukraine.
Anand also said that Ottawa is providing trainers, spare parts and ammunition. She left open the possibility of sending more Leopards in the future.
The Leopards that the federal government is donating are among 112 currently owned by the Canadian Armed Forces, which includes 82 designed for combat.
“This donation, combined with the contributions of allies and partners, will significantly help the armed forces of Ukraine as they fight heroically to defend their nation’s freedom and sovereignty,” Anand said.
“These heavily armoured and highly protected vehicles provide soldiers with a tactical advantage on the battlefield. Thanks to their excellent mobility, their firepower and their survivability, these tanks will allow Ukraine to liberate even more of its territory and defend its people from Russia’s brutal invasion.”
Anand added the tanks will be sent to Ukraine in the “coming weeks,” and that they are “combat-ready.”
U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday the U.S. will send 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, reversing months of persistent arguments by Washington that the tanks were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The U.S. decision follows Germany’s move to send 14 Leopard 2A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany had said the Leopards would not be sent unless the U.S. put its Abrams on the table, not wanting to incur Russia’s wrath without the U.S. similarly committing its own tanks.
“This is the result of intensive consultations, once again, with our allies and international partners,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told German lawmakers.
“It was right and it is important that we didn’t let ourselves be driven (into making the decision).”
Biden said European allies have agreed to send enough tanks to equip two Ukrainian tank battalions or a total of 62 tanks.
“With spring approaching, Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for additional counter offences,” Biden said.
“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.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed satisfaction at the news. Several European countries have equipped their armies with Leopard 2 tanks, and Germany’s announcement means they can give some of its stocks to Ukraine.
However, unlike European nations, Canada won’t be able to put its Leopard tanks on train cars and roll them into Ukraine.
Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, told reporters only one Leopard tank can be transported at a time on a Canadian military cargo plane.
“We live in North America, and to get a 62-ton tank over there, it’s going to take some doing,” he said.
“Over the last number of weeks, we’ve been planning, working behind the scenes, to rapidly get this capability over there. … The effort to get those over is going to be something serious.”
In terms of future tank donations from Canada, Eyre said his recommendation will depend on collaboration among the allies in regard to serviceability, spare parts, technical support and ammunition.
“We have to look at this as a collective,” Eyre said.
Of the 82 main battle tanks Canada has, 42 are Leopard 2A4s. The military also has 20 2A4Ms, which feature better mine protection and upgraded digital technology than the 2A4s. The remaining 20 are 2A6Ms, which include an upgraded cannon and better all-around protection.
Eyre said the Leopard 2A4s, the same model that several allies are providing Ukraine, will allow for interoperability on training and maintenance. Canada has used the tanks for training purposes, but other nations have used them in operations, Eyre said.
Anand said the number of tanks the federal government is donating was “carefully considered” to ensure the Canadian military had enough in stock to maintain its own readiness, to train, and to meet its NATO commitments under Operation Reassurance in central and eastern Europe.
In a statement, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress thanked the government for its contribution.
“The tanks that Canada and allies are providing will be a game changer in the fight for the liberation of Ukrainian territories from brutal Russian occupation,” said National President Alexandra Chyczij.
“The sooner Ukrainian forces drive the Russian invaders from sovereign Ukrainian land, the sooner peace will return to Ukraine and to Europe.”
Canada is among the western allies that have pledged billions worth of aid for Ukraine since Russia began its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022.
The federal government has committed more than $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine and has imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Moscow.
Some of the military assistance to Ukraine so far from Canada includes armoured combat support vehicles, ammunition and M777 Howitzers, according to the government. More recently, Ottawa promised to provide an American-made air defence system at a cost of $406 million.
— with files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press