Germany announced on Wednesday that it will supply the Leopard 2 battle tanks long sought by Kyiv and will approve requests by other countries to do the same. Berlin's announcement came shortly after Kyiv admitted that its troops have withdrawn from the town of Soledar, a key position on the eastern front. Follow our live blog for the latest updates on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
2:45pm: Deserter from Wagner military group released in Norway
Andrei Medvedev, 26, crossed the Russian-Norwegian border in the country's far north in the early hours of January 13 and sought asylum in the Scandinavian country. He was arrested on Sunday for refusing to follow restrictions imposed by police since his arrival in the country, according to his lawyer. On Wednesday, immigration police released Medvedev from the Trandum immigration detention centre "on condition that he stays in a specific place," Jon Andreas Johansen, a police official in charge of immigration affairs, told AFP in an email.
Medvedev claims to have fought in Ukraine as a member of Wagner for four months before deserting in November, when the paramilitary organisation led by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin allegedly extended his contract against his will.
2:45pm: Zelensky tells Scholz 'sincerely grateful' for German tanks
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday thanked his German counterpart Olaf Scholz for Berlin's decision to deliver powerful Leopard tanks and grant approval for other countries to send some from their own stocks.
"German main battle tanks, further broadening of defence support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz," Zelensky said on Twitter, adding that he was "sincerely grateful to the Chancellor and all our friends".
2:44pm: Ukraine asks countries with Leopard 2 tanks to provide as many as possible
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday appealed to all countries that operate the Leopard 2 battle tank to "provide as many of them as possible" to help Ukraine fend off Russia's invasion.
"So the tank coalition is formed. Everyone who doubted this could ever happen sees now: for Ukraine and partners impossible is nothing," he wrote on Twitter.
"I call on all new partners that have Leopard 2 tanks in service to join the coalition and provide as many of them as possible."
2:41pm: Russia says delivery of German tanks to Ukraine part of 'pre-planned war'
Kyiv has for months asked for Western tanks that it says it desperately needs to give its forces the firepower and mobility to break through Russian defensive lines and recapture occupied territory in the east and south.
2:40pm: Idea of 'historical responsibility' behind German tank reluctance
One of the Russian criticisms of Berlin's decision to send Kyiv Leopard tanks is that Germany is "abandoning its historical responsibility because of what the Nazis did in Germany during the Second World War", noted FRANCE 24 Chief Foreign Editor Robert Parsons. "It's interesting just how Olaf Scholz seemed to pick up on all that. There were questions about Germany abandoning its Ostpolitik - its attempt to introduce detente into the relationship back in those days between the West and the Soviet Union.
"It was clear that one of the things that was holding back Germany during the last few weeks, when the pressure has been really mounting to deliver the Leopard tanks, has been this awareness of what Germany's role has been in the past - and a fear that, if Germany were to go by itself and provide Ukraine with Leopard tanks, that Germany would be more open to the criticism from Russia that we've been getting today."
1:40pm: NATO chief says German tanks can help Ukraine 'win'
"At a critical moment in Russia's war, these can help Ukraine to defend itself, win & prevail as an independent nation," Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.
1:38pm: Scholz warns against 'escalating' Ukraine war
Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday said Western allies would keep supporting Ukraine as Germany promised Leopard tanks for Kyiv, but also highlighted the danger of further inflaming the conflict.
"We must always make it clear in everything we do that we are doing what is necessary and possible to support Ukraine, but that at the same time we are preventing the war from escalating into a war between Russia and NATO," Scholz said in his speech to parliament announcing the decision.
1:20pm: Spain open to sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine, minister says
Spain is open to providing German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said on Wednesday after Germany agreed to send the tanks and allow other NATO allies to do the same.
She told EFE news agency Spain would act in coordination with the Western allies helping Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion.
According to security and defence researcher Felix Arteaga of the Elcano think-tank, Spain has 108 2A4 tanks. About half of these tanks are in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and 53 are in reserve and would need to be refit, Arteaga said, adding that it would likely take a few months to prepare them.
1:15pm: Finland says it will be part of group sending tanks to Ukraine
Finland's 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.
He declined to comment further on the size of Finland's contribution.
1:11pm: Netherlands also prepared to supply battle tanks to Ukraine, PM says
The Netherlands is prepared to deliver battle tanks to Ukraine if needed, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday.
"If a contribution from the Netherlands helps, we are prepared to do so," Rutte told Dutch broadcaster RTL.
Rutte said the Netherlands could opt to buy tanks it currently leases from Germany, and supply those to Ukraine.
12:56pm: Russia says Germany spurning 'historical responsibility', 'takes the conflict to new level'
The Russian embassy in Germany said on Wednesday that Berlin's decision to approve the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine 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. "This extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about the unwillingness of the Federal Republic of Germany to be drawn into it," Ambassador Sergei Nechayev said.
12:40pm: Ukraine welcomes German decision on tanks as 'first step'
Kyiv on Wednesday welcomed Germany's decision to green light Leopard 2 tank deliveries to Ukraine, following weeks of pressure from allies. "The first step on tanks has been taken. Next - the 'tank coalition'. We need a lot of Leopards," the head of Ukraine's presidential administration Andriy Yermak said on social media, referring to other countries that have said they would also send the tanks with Berlin's approval.
12:35pm: Paris, Warsaw, London hail Berlin's decision to send heavy Leopard war tanks to Ukraine
The French presidency on Wednesday welcomed Berlin's decision to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and allow other states to do the same in support of the country's fight against Russia. "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 on Wednesday thanked Germany for approving the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and providing a company of them from Berlin's own stocks.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday that Germany and other NATO allies' decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was 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.
11:49am: German govt approves supplying Ukraine with heavy Leopard battle tanks, will accept other countries' requests to do the same
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Wednesday that the country will supply its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, overcoming misgivings about sending heavy weaponry that Kyiv sees as crucial to defeat the Russian invasion but Moscow cast as needless provocation.
Berlin will provide a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from the Bundeswehr stocks and is also granting approval for other European countries to send tanks from their own stocks to Ukraine, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in a statement. "The aim is to quickly assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine," he said.
Pressure had been building for weeks on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government to send the tanks and allow other NATO allies to do so as well ahead of expected spring offensives by both sides that could help turn the tide of the war.
Scholz's government had stalled on the decision, wary of moves that could prompt Russia to escalate or suck the NATO alliance into becoming a party to the conflict. Germany's decision paves the way for other countries such as Poland, Spain and Norway to supply their stocks of Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
11:05am: Ukraine admits its troops have withdrawn from Soledar, army spokesman says
The Ukrainian army admitted on Wednesday that its troops have withdrawn from the eastern town of Soledar, leaving it to pro-Russian forces, two weeks after Moscow announced it had taken the town.
"After months of heavy fighting, including over the past weeks, the Armed Forces of Ukraine left (Soledar) and retreated along the outskirts to pre-prepared positions," said military spokesman Sergiy Cherevaty told AFP. He nevertheless refused to say exactly when the retreat took place.
9:50pm: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set to announce govt decision on tank deliveries to Ukraine during parliament address
Members of Scholz's three-party coalition government welcomed the news ahead of the official announcement which is expected in a speech to parliament in early afternoon. "The Leopard's freed!" said German lawmaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a senior Green party lawmaker.
FRANCE 24's correspondent Nick Spicer has more on the story from Berlin.
7:08am: Russia's defence ministry says frigate tested 900 km missile strike capacity
The Russian Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that the frigate Admiral Gorshkov tested strike capability with Zircon missiles with a range of more than 900 km.
6:04am: Germany promises swift answer on battle tanks for Ukraine; Chancellor Scholz to answer MP questions
Berlin was expected to announce a decision Wednesday on the export of powerful German-made Leopard battle tanks long sought by Kyiv, and encouraged allies to start training Ukrainian forces to use them. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to make an announcement at the Bundestag during an address to German MPs.
According to magazine Spiegel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had decided to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and to allow other countries such as Poland to do so as well. The magazine, which first reported the news, said Berlin was planning to supply at least one company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks, which usually comprises 14 tanks. Other allies, in Scandinavia for example, intend to go along with Germany in supplying their Leopard tanks to Kyiv, the magazine reported.
3:00am: Washington's possible tank deliveries to Ukraine a 'blatant provocation', says Russian ambassador
"It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us," Antonov said in remarks published on the embassy's Telegram messaging app.
"If the United States decides to supply tanks, then justifying such a step with arguments about 'defensive weapons' will definitely not work. This would be another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)