BERLIN - Germany will supply its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, it announced on Wednesday, overcoming misgivings about sending heavy weaponry that Kyiv sees as crucial to defeat the Russian invasion but Moscow cast as a needless provocation.

Pressure has been building for weeks on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government to send the tanks and allow other Nato allies to do the same 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 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.

"This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability. We are acting in a closely coordinated manner internationally," Scholz said in a statement.

The goal was to quickly establish two battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, the statement said, adding Germany would in a first step provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks from military stocks.

Training of Ukrainian troops in Germany will begin soon, and Germany will also provide logistics and ammunition, it said.

Germany will issue the appropriate transfer permits to partner countries that want to quickly deliver Leopard 2 tanks from their stocks to Ukraine, it said.

Russia has condemned an expected announcement by the US and Germany that they will send tanks to Ukraine, calling it “another blatant provocation” against Moscow.

Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, said early on Wednesday: “It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us.”

The US is poised to confirm the start of deliveries of dozens of M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, two US officials told Reuters.

It is also understood Germany has bowed to international pressure and agreed to send tanks to Ukraine to bolster the war effort against Vladimir Putin.

While there has been no official confirmation from Berlin yet, officials in Kyiv swiftly hailed what they said was a potential game-changer on the battlefield.

“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews – the best tank crews in the world,” Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian president Zelensky’s chief-of-staff, wrote on Telegram.

“This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy against the autocracy from the bog.”