(Reuters) - Germany will send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and approve their re-export from partner countries, German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said on Wednesday. Russia has cast deliveries of heavy weapons to Ukraine as proof that the West is escalating the war.
Here is the initial international reaction:
The Russian embassy in Germany said that Berlin's decision meant it was abandoning its "historical responsibility to Russia" arising from Nazi crimes in World War Two. In a statement, the embassy said that the decision would escalate the conflict to a new level.
Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the German decision confirmed what she said was a "pre-planned war" against Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he was "sincerely grateful" to Germany and Chancellor Olaf Scholz for Berlin's "important and timely" decision to provide Kyiv with battle tanks.
Zelenskiy made the comment in a statement on the Telegram messaging app after speaking by phone with the German chancellor.
"Sincerely grateful to the Chancellor and all our friends in Germany," he wrote.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he spoke with his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin on Wednesday, promising "more good news to be announced soon".
Reznikov said they discussed "further strengthening of (Ukraine's army), including tank supplies and maintenance of the new armaments".
U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver remarks on continued U.S. support to Ukraine at noon (1700 GMT), the White House said on Wednesday.
The Kremlin said that Abrams battle tanks supplied to Ukraine by the United States would "burn", dismissing the proposed shipments as an expensive folly.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Germany's decision, saying in an interview media outlet WELT they would help Ukraine win against Russia.
"At a critical moment in Russia's war, these tanks can help Ukraine defend itself, win and stand as an independent nation," he said.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday that Germany had made the "right decision".
"The right decision by NATO Allies and friends to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. Alongside Challenger 2s, they will strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower," Sunak said on Twitter. "Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace."
The French presidency welcomed Berlin's decision to send tanks to Ukraine and allow other states to do the same.
"France welcomes the German decision, which extends and amplifies the support we have provided with the delivery of the AMX10 RC," the Elysee said in a statement, referring to a France-made lighter combat vehicle which Paris is also aiming to send to Ukraine.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday for his decision.
"Thank you @Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz," he wrote on Twitter. "The decision to send Leopards to Ukraine is a big step towards stopping Russia."
Finnish Defence Minister Mikko Savola said on Wednesday his country will participate in the group of countries sending tanks to Ukraine, although the contribution would be limited in scope.
"The international cooperation to send Leopards to Ukraine is advancing now and Finland will participate in that," Savola told reporters.
The Netherlands is prepared to deliver battle tanks to Ukraine if needed, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.
"If a contribution from the Netherlands helps, we are prepared to do so," Rutte told Dutch broadcaster RTL.
Spain is open to providing Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said.
(Compiled by Nick Macfie; Editing by Kevin Liffey)