The United States and Germany have announced deliveries of top-of-the-line tanks to Ukraine, signalling a new surge of Western support for an expected counter-offensive against Russia. French military and political officials are still debating the supply of additional armoured vehicles to Kyiv.
In a televised address on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden promised 31 Abrams tanks, one of the most powerful and sophisticated weapons used by the US army.
Shortly before the US announcement, Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave the green light to allow Germany send 14 Leopard 2 tanks.
Western countries have already sent Ukraine mobile artillery units and Patriot anti-missile defense systems.
The promises of tank deliveries are seen as preparation for a Ukrainian counteroffensive to push back increasingly entrenched Russians in the east and south.
Biden emphasised that ramping up Western armaments for Ukraine's military should not be seen as an attack on Russia.
"That's what this is about, helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia. There is no offensive threat to Russia," Biden said.
Ukrainians, who have lobbied Western capitals for months to end restrictions on weapons which would enable their troops to take on the more heavily armed Russians, were jubilant.
President Volodymyr Zelensky called the pledge of US Abrams "an important step on the path to victory."
'A dangerous new line'
Russia made it clear that sending heavy tanks would cross a dangerous new line. Moscow's ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said US approval for Abrams deliveries would be "another blatant provocation against the Russian Federation."
Russia's German envoy, Sergei Nechaev, likewise warned that the "extremely dangerous decision takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation, and contradicts statements by German politicians about the unwillingness of the German Federation to get involved in it."
The Kremlin has said that it considers Western tank deliveries to be 'direct involvement' in the Ukraine conflict.
'Unspeakable pain' after Ukraine's Interior Minister killed in helicopter crashRussia digs in at Bakhmut
Russian forces have meanwhile tightened the screws on Bakhmut, an eastern town that Ukrainian forces have held for months in the face of artillery bombardments.
Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said that Russia with its "superior number of soldiers and weapons" was "trying to break through" in the Donetsk region.
Near Soledar, a frontline town recently captured by Russians, a Ukrainian unit commander told the French AFP news agency that his troops were outnumbered.
Poland, Norway, Spain line up
Poland is pledging major contributions, Norway offered two Leopard tanks on Wednesday and Spain said it would examine the situation.
Zelensky, while hailing the additional assistance, called for the supply of "long-range missiles."
Indicating the intensity of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy, Biden spoke by phone about Ukraine on Wednesday with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, the White House said.
France has so far limited its promises of armoured vehicles to Ukraine to the lightweight AMX-10 RC, a wheeled weapon which is useless in rugged terrain.