The first consignment of German Leopard 2 tanks has reached Ukraine, offering a symbolic and a practical boost for Kyiv as it battles to repel Russian forces.

Germany’s defence ministry said 18 of its modern Leopard 2A6 fighting vehicles reached Ukraine on Monday, along with two armoured recovery vehicles, ammunition and spare parts.

The country’s defence minister, Boris Pistorius, said the tanks would “make a decisive contribution on the front line” and told Ukrainians: “You can rely on us!”

The German contingent is not the first delivery of western tanks to Kyiv. Four Polish Leopard tanks arrived in late February. Spain has also said its first shipment of six Leopard 2A4s would be sent by the end of this week.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksii Reznikov on Monday said the first deliveries of British Challenger tanks had also been transferred to his armed forces, making their “armoured fist stronger” ahead of a counteroffensive.

In a Facebook post showing him testing out the new materiel, Reznikov said “today I had the honour . . . along with our paratroopers of riding on new additions to our armed units. Challenger’s from Britain, Stryker and Cougar [armoured vehicles] from the USA and Marder [infantry fighting vehicles] from Germany.”

The delivery of the advanced weaponry by the German state carries particular symbolism for Kyiv and Berlin, where choices about sending weapons into an active conflict zone have weighed heavily on decision makers and the public.

Kyiv had clamoured for months for advanced western tanks before Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz, under mounting international pressure, agreed in January to supply German-made Leopard 2s to the Ukrainian armed forces as part of a deal struck with the US.

Ukrainian officials argued the tanks would offer a significant upgrade to the Soviet-era vehicles they had relied on, and which were suffering from a high attrition rate and a shortage of ammunition and spare parts.

The German-US agreement meant Scholz and US president Joe Biden announced a deal to send US-made Abrams tanks at the same time as Berlin’s Leopard 2 announcement. This assuaged German fears of acting in isolation and escalating the conflict — although US officials have subsequently suggested that their Abrams are unlikely to reach Ukraine before late 2023 or early 2024.

Berlin also agreed to grant the necessary export licences for other nations to send Leopard 2 tanks from their own stocks to Kyiv.

After the heavy criticism over their perceived foot-dragging on tanks, German officials have expressed frustration in recent months that some European nations that had promised to commit Leopard 2s from their owns stocks had failed to follow through.

Germany, which has also supplied air defence missiles, anti-aircraft tanks and armoured fighting vehicles, is now the third-largest single supplier of military aid to Ukraine after the US and UK, according to a tracker produced by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

The defence ministry said the next step for Berlin would be to start delivering Leopard 1 A5s, an older model, once they had been refurbished by their manufacturers. It said the aim was to provide an initial consignment of 25 Leopard 1s by summer, about 80 by the end of the year, and at least 100 more over 2024.

Additional reporting by Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv

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