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Ukraine war effort aided by arrival of U.S. tanks as doubts raised over killing of Russian fleet commander

Ukraine claims it killed Russian commander
Ukraine claims it killed commander of Russia's Black Sea fleet in missile strike 01:32

The first American-made Abrams tanks were rolling out on Ukrainian soil, as Russia refutes a claim by Ukrainian forces to have dealt a significant blow to the leadership of Moscow's naval fleet in the Black Sea.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed the arrival of the tanks on the Telegram messaging app: "Good news from Minister (of Defense Rustem) Umerov. Abrams are already in Ukraine and are being prepared to reinforce our brigades."

He did not specify the number of tanks that have been delivered.

They are the first of 31 M1 Abrams tanks promised by the Biden administration, and they've started arriving months ahead of initial estimates. They join tanks already deployed by NATO partners, including German-made Leopards and British Challengers, which arrived last spring.

They are the latest heavy weapons sent by the United States as Ukraine continues to grind out a punishing counteroffensive to penetrate defenses in Russian-held territory in the south and east of the country.

An Australian army M1A1 Abrams main battle tank fires a round at a target during a live fire demonstration at the Puckapunyal Military Base north of Melbourne on May 9, 2019.
File photo: An Australian army M1A1 Abrams main battle tank fires a round at a target during a live fire demonstration at the Puckapunyal Military Base north of Melbourne on May 9, 2019. William West/AFP via Getty Images

It's a fight that has been costly on both sides of the front line — not just in terms of equipment but in staggering troop losses — without much significant territorial progress by Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainian special operation forces claimed Monday that a strike at the end of last week targeting the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea fleet in the occupied Crimean Peninsula had killed the fleet's commander. 

But in a Telegram post on Tuesday, Ukrainian officials appeared to scale back on that claim, saying their units were "clarifying the information." The statement came after Russia's state-controlled media aired images featuring the Admiral Viktor Sokolov attending a daily briefing with other senior defense officials. It wasn't immediately clear when the footage was taken, however.

If the commander was killed in the strike it would be a huge blow to the Russian war machine — not just the death of one of the country's highest-ranking officers, but one of the boldest attacks yet on Russian-occupied territory far beyond the battlefields of Ukraine itself.

As for the Abrams tanks, Washington had been reluctant to send them to the battlefields of Ukraine amid concerns the move would escalate tensions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And yet U.S. officials confirmed to Martin that the Biden administration promised Zelenskyy the delivery of long-range missiles topped with cluster munitions, known as ATACMS — Army Tactical Missile Systems. They have a range of up to 190 miles and can be launched from the HIMARS mobile rocket launchers already in use by the Ukrainian military.

The missiles will allow Ukraine to strike at Russian supply lines and command posts well beyond the front lines, the kind of reach the military has already proven capable of carrying out.

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