In a post on X (formerly Twitter) last month, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suggested the UK was the first country to send tanks to Ukraine following the Russian invasion.
Above a Conservative party-branded image of Mr Sunak and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy embracing, the post said: “We were the first country to send tanks to Kyiv, now more than 10 others have followed.”
Neither the government nor the Conservative party have provided evidence to support this claim. When we contacted Downing Street, we did not get a response. The Ministry of Defence told us it had passed our query to Downing Street, which had advised it was a party-political post and so the Conservative party should respond. However when we contacted the Conservative party, it referred us back to Downing Street.
While full details of tank movements may not be public and we’re reliant on what’s been reported by the media and announced by governments, the Prime Minister’s claim appears to be incorrect. Several other countries reportedly sent tanks to Ukraine months before the UK did. Other countries have also sent larger numbers of tanks.
Ministers must provide evidence for what they say, and ensure that any statistics and data they rely on to back up their claims are provided publicly in accordance with the Code of Practice for Statistics or relevant guidance.
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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February 2022.
In April that year, the Czech Republic (also known as Czechia) reportedly sent five T-72 tanks to Ukraine, becoming the first NATO country to do so. Further tanks were upgraded and delivered to Ukraine over the following months, with at least 120 T-72s pledged by December 2022.
During the summer of 2022, it was also reported that Poland had sent a consignment of PT-91 tanks to Ukraine.
In September 2022, Slovenia announced it would send 28 Soviet-made M-55S tanks to Ukraine. The vehicles were reportedly in service prior to the end of the year.
We’ve not found any reports of the UK sending any tanks to Ukraine in 2022. It did not announce that it would do so until the following year.
On the same day as his post on X, during his speech at the Conservative party conference, Mr Sunak made a similar claim, but qualified it by saying the UK had been the first country to send “Western battle tanks” to Kyiv.
Again, it’s not clear what this is based on as we’ve not had any explanation from Downing Street, the Ministry of Defence or the Conservative party.
On 14 January 2023, the UK government announced it would send 14 UK-made Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, such a move reportedly having been under consideration for a few days.
The official UK government confirmation came a few days after Poland revealed on 11 January that it had decided to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. However as the BBC reported at the time, Poland required approval from Germany to export the Leopard 2s, so the UK was arguably the first country to confirm it was sending Western tanks, and some reports at the time, for example in the Wall Street Journal, did state that was the case.
Multiple media reports and a statement on the website of the Polish government say the first Leopard 2 tanks it sent arrived in Ukraine on 24 February, the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion. In addition, a number of Leopard 2 tanks from Norway were reported to have arrived in Ukraine prior to 20 March.
According to social media posts from Canadian politician Anita Anand, a former defence minister and current President of the Treasury Board, the country sent its first Leopard 2 tank to Ukraine in early February and it arrived in Poland on 6 February. Additional tanks were reportedly sent the following month. However we’ve not been able to confirm when Canada’s Leopard 2 tanks were transferred to Ukraine.
The 14 Challenger 2 tanks from the UK were reported to have arrived in Ukraine around 27 March, the same day that 18 Leopard tanks arrived from Germany and three from Portugal.
Image courtesy of Boevaya Mashina