Ukrainian soldiers will start training on Leopard 2 tanks next week as part of an EU-funded training mission, as Kyiv’s allies seek to deploy the newly pledged vehicles ahead of a feared Russian offensive this spring.
Two people familiar with the preparations said that everything was ready to begin teaching the Ukrainian military to deploy the modern battle tanks after several European nations last week pledged to send them to Kyiv after months of deliberations and Ukrainian pressure.
Berlin’s decision to send the German-made Leopard 2s marked a watershed moment in western support for Ukraine by agreeing to supply large numbers of modern Nato-standard main battle tanks.
Germany also agreed for other countries who operate the tank to send them to Ukraine. That can only happen after enough Ukrainian tank crews have been trained to use them.
The final details of the training plan were thrashed out at a US-led meeting of western defence officials in Germany on Wednesday. The training is expected to last about six weeks.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s defence and security chief, said ahead of meetings with Ukrainian defence officials in Kyiv on Thursday that “crews of the battle tanks” would be trained under the EU mission, describing the vehicles as “a strong reinforcement of the Ukrainian military capability”.
“Training will start from next week,” said one of the people, adding that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers had already flown to locations across Germany and Poland. “It’s all going very quickly because the Ukrainians see the urgency.”
“Politically, it is cleared,” said a second official.
The news comes as the EU on Thursday announced plans to instruct 30,000 Ukrainian troops through its training mission, double the initial planned amount.
The EU will also increase the mission’s budget by €45mn, and raise its funding for weapons supplied to Ukraine by €500mn to €3.6bn.
The EU established the initiative in October, with an initial duration of two years. The unprecedented step was aimed at pooling member states’ capabilities to teach Ukrainians how to use western weapons being provided to Kyiv, and to provide “individual, collective and specialised training” to troops.
European defence officials have rushed to tackle a range of practical problems, including securing enough beds and kitchens to accommodate the Ukrainian soldiers and finding sufficient translators.
Officials are also grappling with challenges of how to transport the vehicles to the front lines. “If you want to bring them in time, before April, you can imagine how many trains, cars you need to get them there,” said one of the officials. “That’s only vehicles. [There are] also spare parts, ammunition — and time is limited.”