First NATO country sends tanks to Ukraine: Czech Republic provides T-72 tanks and armoured infantry vehicles

 The Czech Republic has become the first NATO country to send tanks to Ukraine, providing T-72 and armoured infantry vehicles following President Zelensky's plea for help. 

Several BVP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, howitzer artillery pieces and more than a dozen T-72 tanks were yesterday loaded on a train bound for Slovakia where they are expected to head on to Ukraine, footage run by public broadcaster Czech Television showed. 

The delivery is understood to be a gift agreed on by NATO allies, raising fears the trans-Atlantic bloc could be dragged into the Russian war in Ukraine despite remaining on the sidelines for more than a month. 

NATO leaders have so far given Ukraine anti-tank and anti-craft missiles as well as small arms and protective equipment, but have not offered any heavy armour or fighter jets. Prague's decision to supply tanks to Kyiv will pile pressure on NATO allies to follow suit.   

It comes as Russian artillery continued to pound the Ukrainian cities of Mariupol and Kharkiv today as the West prepared more sanctions against Moscow in response to civilian killings that Kyiv and its allies have called war crimes. 

Czech Defence Minister Jana Cernochova told parliament yesterday: 'I will only assure you that the Czech Republic is helping Ukraine as much as it can and will continue to help by [supplying] military equipment, both light and heavy.'

She declined to provide further details on the transfer but it comes after Ukraine's Vlodymyr Zelensky demanded NATO deliver armour, fighter jets and other military equipment during a summit in Brussels on March 24. 

Ukraine burns through in a single day the same amount of weaponry it receives in a week, according to a senior Polish official, and Kyiv's eastern neighbours are concerned with keeping up with demand, the Wall Street Journal reported.  

The Czech delivery has been funded by Prague as well as private donors who have contributed to a crowdsourced fundraising campaign to supply arms to Kyiv.

Prague, and neighbouring Slovakia which has no tanks to give, are also considering helping repair and refit damaged Ukrainian military equipment. Germany will send several dozen infantry fighting vehicles to Kyiv and the UK has approved the delivery of 20 ambulances.  

The United States has agreed to provide an additional $100 million in assistance to Ukraine, including Javelin anti-armour systems, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. US chipmaker Intel Corp (INTC.O) said it had suspended business operations in Russia, joining a growing list of companies leaving the country.

NATO is set to discuss the delivery of more weapons to Ukraine at a meeting today and tomorrow, according to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.  

But western officials on Monday suggested the Biden administration in Washington would act as a throttle on plans to supply more equipment to Ukraine, over fears that the war machines could breach rules allowing only defensive weapons to be supplied.

One said that the US was 'not minded' to support the supply of T-72 tanks of the type used by Ukraine from sympathetic neighbours, adding: 'They have this offensive dimension, they are not purely defensive. They would not be particularly relevant to the military activities the Ukrainians need to undertake.'

A proposal to transfer 28 MiG jets from Poland to Ukraine via the US last month was scrapped amid NATO concerns about getting drawn into conflict with Russia. 

Russian forces last week pulled back from positions outside Kyiv and shifted the focus of their assault away from the capital, and Ukraine's general staff said the northeastern city of Kharkiv, the country's second-largest, also remained under attack.

Authorities in the eastern region of Luhansk on Wednesday urged residents to get out 'while it is safe' from an area that Ukraine also expects to be the target of a new offensive.  

Western sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, described as a 'special military operation' by Moscow and the biggest assault on a European nation since World War Two, gained new impetus this week when dead civilians shot at close range were found in the northern town of Bucha after it was retaken from Russian forces.

Moscow denied targeting civilians there and called the evidence presented a forgery staged by the West to discredit it.

Speaking a day after the European Union announced new sanctions, including a ban on Russian coal imports and denying Russian ships access to EU ports, the head of the EU executive, Ursula von der Leyen, said there was more to come.

'These sanctions will not be our last sanctions,' she told European Parliament on Wednesday. 'Now we have to look into oil and revenues Russia gets from fossil fuels.'

Europe gets about a third of its natural gas from Russia and has been wary of the economic impact of the total ban on Russian energy imports advocated by Ukraine, but Von der Leyen's remarks signal the bloc's strengthening resolve to take the step that Kyiv says is vital to securing a deal to end the war.

The White House said it would also unveil new sanctions today, in part in response to Bucha. The new sanctions, coordinated between Washington, the Group of Seven advanced economies and the EU, will target Russian banks and officials and ban new investment in Russia, the White House said.

After an impassioned address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Zelensky said new sanctions against Russia 'must be commensurate with the gravity of the occupiers' war crimes,' calling it a 'crucial moment' for Western leaders. 

Ukrainian officials say between 150 and 300 bodies might be in a mass grave by a church in Bucha, north of the capital Kyiv. Satellite images taken weeks ago show bodies of civilians on a street in the town, a private US company said.

Reuters reporters saw at least four victims shot through the head in Bucha, one with their hands tied behind their back. Residents have recounted cases of several others slain, some shot through their eyes and one apparently beaten to death and mutilated.

Since launching an invasion that has uprooted a quarter of Ukraine's population, Russia has failed to capture a single major city.


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