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Ukraine’s defence minister takes Challenger II for ‘a spin’ as he thanks UK for sending tanks

Ukrainian military chiefs on Tuesday hailed the arrival of British Challenger II tanks ahead of a planned counter-offensive against Vladimir Putin’s invasion force.

“They have arrived!,” tweeted Ukraine’s Defence Ministry.

“Strykers and Cougars from (America), Challengers from (Britain), Marders from (Germany) have officially joined the Air Assault Forces of the #UAarmy!

“The greatest vehicles for the best soldiers. Onward!”

A few hours later, Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksii Reznikov told how he had taken a Challenger for “a spin” as he thanked Britain for sending the tanks.

The UK has pledged to send 14 Challenger II tanks, with hundreds of German-built Leopard tanks expected to be delivered in coming months from other European allies to Kyiv.

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Analysts expect a Ukrainian counter-attack to get under way in earnest during the April-May period as the weather improves and more military aid arrives, including more battle tanks.

The 18 Leopard 2 tanks, workhorse of militaries across Europe, pledged by Germany have reached Ukraine, the German Defence Ministry said on Monday.

“I’m sure that they can make a decisive contribution on the front,” German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Twitter.

Front lines in Ukraine have barely moved for more than four months despite a Russian spring offensive which has achieved only minimal gains.

Ukraine’s military aims to wear down Russian forces before mounting its own attack.

Putin’s “private army”, the Wagner Group which is thought to have sustained heavy losses in eastern Ukraine, is seeking to replenish its ranks ahead of any Ukrainian counter-offensive.

A giant recruitment advertisement for the group has appeared on the facade of an office building in northeast Moscow.

It shows Wagner’s logo and slogans such as “Join the winning team!” and “Together we will win”, along with a picture of a masked man holding a weapon.

However, Wagner mercenaries, many of them recruited directly from jails, have suffered very heavy losses, as they have been used as “cannon fodder”, according to military experts, being forced to advance in reckless attacks on Ukrainian positions, including in the eastern town of Bakhmut, and at times shot by their own forces if they retreat.

Western defence chiefs estimate that Russian forces have suffered up to 200,000 casualties, with as many as 60,000 fatalities, with heavy losses also on the Ukrainian side.

Thousands of civilians have also been killed in the conflict which Putin launched more than a year ago.