Recently, NATO members such as the U.S., Germany and other European countries made the decision to send tanks to Ukraine, according to the BBC. This development demonstrates NATO’s continued support for Ukraine. It also shows the commitment of the West to prop up the Ukrainian military and government, which are not in any rush to call for a ceasefire.
The BBC notes that Ukraine already has 200 tanks from Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries. The additional tanks to arrive in Ukraine will meet thousands of Russian tanks, both old and modern.
The Situation at the Ukrainian Front
Lately, battles in Ukraine have been centered around the city of Bakhmut, according to Financial Times, and there were some casualties in addition to the already massive number of casualties in Ukraine as described by the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal reported about the continued Russian offensive in this area and explained that the Ukrainian government is using Russian advances to plead for more weapons to be sent to Ukraine.
In the spring, the Ukrainian government will likely face a new Russian offensive. With improvement in the weather, Russian tanks’ movement will be easier.
[Related article: With Their Invasion of Ukraine – Is Russia’s Future On The Line?]
How Many Tanks Will Ukraine Get?
The Polish government asked NATO for permission to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 German-made tanks. But for some time, the German government refused to give its permission, fearing to make its relationship with Russia even more tense.
However, Germany recently announced that it will supply tanks to Ukraine, according to CNBC. It will also allow other European armies to send tanks as a “result of intensive consultations that took place with Germany’s closest European and international partners….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.”
The number of tanks is not very high. Germany will supply about 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its Army resources.
Other European armies like the Polish army will also hand over Leopard 2 tanks alongside ammunition and supplies. NPR noted that there are several reasons that Ukraine wants these Leopard 2 tanks, saying, “Each tank boasts a 44- or 55-caliber 120-mm main gun and a 1,500-horsepower engine that allows it to move as fast as 44 mph, according to Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the German defense company that manufactures the tank. Some 60 tons of armor protect their crews from return fire.”
According to The Hill, the United Kingdom announced in January that it will send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. These tanks are similar to Leopard 2 tanks and should be an asset to Ukraine.
On January 25, the Department of Defense said that The White House would send 31 new Abrams M-1 tanks to Ukraine. The Abrams tanks will not be from existing U.S army stocks but will come from a new line of tanks to be built in the coming months. They are to be supplied to Ukraine in August.
According to the Department of Defense, President Biden defended his decision to send tanks to Ukraine, stating, “They need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term. They need to improve their ability to maneuver in open terrain. And, they need an enduring capability to deter and defend against Russian aggression over the long term.”
The President also remarked that the French government will send several AMX-10 tanks from its stocks to Ukraine.
Sending Tanks to Ukraine Won’t Necessarily Change the War
The total number of tanks that will be sent to Ukraine is not clear. It varies from 100 to 200 tanks depending upon different news sources.
But sending foreign tanks to Ukraine is not necessarily a game-changing move in comparison to the size of the Russian army tank corps. There are real questions about what is left of the mighty Russian tank brigades. Experts estimate that most of the Russian tanks are not operative, which could why T-62 Russian tanks from the 1960s have been seen on the Ukrainian battlefront.
In a great Forbes article, journalist David Hambling noted the dire situation of the once-mighty Russian tank division. Hambling surmised, “The presence of T-62s indicates that, despite its theoretical armor reserve of thousands of tanks, Russia is running low on T-90s, T-80s, T-72s and T-64s – representing at least three generations of tanks — and is now scraping the bottom of the barrel with tanks made when Gerald Ford was president, disco was going mainstream and Bill Gates and Paul Allen formed a little company called ‘Microsoft.’”
It is anybody’s guess how many T-90 tanks Russia has been able to manufacture in the last 10 months, but it is clear that the Russians will not have as many modern tanks as expected. The anti-tank missiles supplied last year by NATO to Ukraine proved highly effective, and those missiles will continue to wreak havoc on Russian forces.
What Messages Is NATO Sending to Russia?
So what is the significance of these new tanks from NATO countries? While the new tanks will not allow the Ukrainians to take the battle to the Russian side, their arrival sends a strong message to Moscow that NATO is fully committed to assisting Ukraine. For Russia, the only way out of the situation in Ukraine is a ceasefire and an agreement between Putin and Zelensky.
The relatively small number of tanks also sends the message to Putin that NATO is not interested in destroying him and his regime. So far, NATO has stopped short from offering more tanks and has not supplied planes.
The limited use of the Russian air force, which many pundits believe is barely functional (a point I discussed last year in an interview with military historian Yagil Henkin) suggests that decades of neglect and corruption have left the Russian army in an untenable position. The decision not to supply planes to Ukraine also shows NATO is not interested in forcing this battle to the world’s stage.
The remaining questions are: What will Putin do? Can Russia cut its losses and reach an agreement with Kyiv over Ukraine? Time will tell.
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