Western Tanks Appear Headed to Ukraine, Breaking Another Taboo

Western officials increasingly fear that Ukraine has little time to prepare to repel an anticipated Russian spring offensive, and is rapidly supplying Ukraine with sophisticated weapons which they had previously refused to send for fear of provoking Moscow.

Over the past few weeks, one barrier after another has collapsed, starting with a US agreement in late December to send a Patriot air defense system. This was followed by Germany’s commitment last week to provide a battery of Patriot missiles, and within hours France, Germany and the United States each promised to deliver. send armored fighting vehicle First visit to the battlefield in Ukraine.

Now, it seems that modern Western tanks will be added to the growing list of powerful weapons being sent to Ukraine, as the US and its allies take more risks to protect Ukraine – especially. especially when their armies made unexpected advances and resisted devastating attacks.

While Ukraine has demanded modern tanks since the start of the war, efforts to meet those requirements accelerated this week when the British and Polish governments publicly called for a change in the alliance’s stance. The West. The British signaled that they were about to agree to send a small number of tanks, and the Polish government said it would happily send some German-made tanks, although Berlin needed to allow that.

Ukraine hopes that increased pressure will convince German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to allow the export to Ukraine of German-made tanks in the arsenals of other NATO allies. The tanks, called Leopard 2, are among the most coveted by Kiev, and experts say that in significant numbers they will significantly increase Ukraine’s ability to repel forces. Russia.

“Someone always has to set an example,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Polish state broadcaster TVP Info on Thursday.

A spokesman for Germany’s defense ministry said the government of Mr. Scholz, a member of the Social Democrats, had not yet made a decision. But his coalition partners, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, support sending the tanks, and on Thursday a senior minister stepped up the pressure.

“There is a difference between making decisions for yourself and preventing others from making them,” said Germany’s Economy Minister and deputy chancellor, Robert Habeck of the Green Party, in Berlin.

The tank, designed more than a century ago to cross trenches, is a combination of firepower, mobility and shock effects. Armed with large cannons, traveling on metal wheels, and built with more armor protection than any other weapon on the battlefield, the tank can overcome rough terrain. , muddy or sandy where wheeled combat vehicles can be difficult.

In Ukraine, officials say armored vehicles will play a key role in battles for control of fiercely contested towns and cities in the eastern provinces bordering Russia. Ukraine’s highest military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny, said it takes about 300 Western tanks and about 600 Western armored fighting vehicles to make a difference.

The sense of urgency about sending in more powerful weapons partly reflects the grim confrontation on the battlefield in eastern Ukraine, where for months the Russians have been trying to capture the city of Bakhmut and the surrounding area, suffered heavy casualties but captured very little land. Over the past week, the fighting has been particularly brutal in nearby town of Soledarwent from block to block and house to house, with conflicting claims to control of the town.

NATO allies that were once part of the Soviet Union supplied Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine. But much of Kiev’s fleet had been destroyed or worn out after months of fighting, it was running out of ammunition, incompatible with Western weapons.

Since the war began nearly a year ago, the West has opposed supplying some of its most powerful weapons to Ukraine, fearing it would put NATO into direct conflict with Russia. But seeing Ukraine’s determination to resist, little prospect of early peace talks, and a deadlock on the battlefield, the NATO allies are relenting.

The Patriots they recently agreed to are the most advanced US-made air defense system and will help protect Kiev and other populated areas from Russian attacks that have crippled Ukraine’s power grid. . The armored fighting vehicles approved last week are lighter and easier to maneuver on the battlefield than tanks and can carry more troops, but not as powerful.

There are still a number of weapons that have not been considered, including fighter jets and long-range missiles that could hit Crimea and Russia itself. The Biden administration, which leads a coalition of allies supplying weapons to Ukraine, is keeping US-made M1 Abrams tanks, which require constant maintenance and special fuel, and is the kind that officials consider too scarce to stockpile.

But US officials insist they have never stood in the way of Germany or any other country sending Western tanks to Ukraine. There is an estimate 2,000 German-made Leopard tanks in more than a dozen armies across Europe. Some could be shipped quickly to Ukraine if Berlin approved, although Ukrainian crews would have to be trained to use them.

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A senior Western military official said this week that it was necessary to change the balance of forces in eastern Ukraine to break the stalemate in the war and send enough modern Western battle tanks. West and other combat vehicles can help change that balance. The official said that without tanks, a powerful component of land warfare, it would be difficult for Ukraine to regain much of its territory.

At the Pentagon, Laura K. Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said last week at a press conference that “we completely agree that Ukraine needs tanks.”

“This is the right time for Ukraine to use its capabilities to change the situation on the battlefield,” Cooper said.

Ukraine is set to step up its own military offensive, either in the middle of winter or after a muddy spring. A senior Western intelligence official said Russia is also telegraphing a spring offensive, and Ukraine “doesn’t want them to hold their breath” until that round of intensifying fighting begins.

Camille Grand, a defense expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations who resigned as NATO’s assistant secretary-general for defense investment late last year, noted that Moscow appears to be mobilizing hundreds of thousands of dollars. New conscript for his attack. That in part prompted the tank debate, he said, “to allow Ukrainian forces to make significant progress today.”

Part of the discussion, Grand said, focused on whether the tanks would give Ukrainian forces “some kind of decisive victory to force the Russians to make peace or at least make progress.” significantly that any negotiated solution would be more likely to proceed. their terms rather than Russia’s.”

The issue of whether to allow Leopards to be sent to Ukraine is unlikely to be up for debate. January 20 meeting of senior military and defense officials from dozens of countries, including NATO nations, at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

So far, the UK has said it is considering sending at least 10 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. The UK has about 227 Challengers, they have maintenance problems and it will be difficult to replenish their reserves.

Part of the internal debate among British officials is politics, a senior European diplomat said. Rishi Sunak, the new prime minister, wants to take the lead in the war, and London and Warsaw appear to be acting in concert to put pressure on Berlin. During a closed session of the National Security Council on Tuesday, Mr. Sunak outlined a strategy of increasing support for Ukraine, possibly starting with tanks, to give Kyiv an advantage ahead of any negotiations. no peace is possible, according to another senior European official. .

But Washington’s explicit approval will be important to push Mr. Scholz to authorize Leopards, as it is crucial to the decision to send German-made combat vehicles called the Marders, Claudia Major, said a defense analyst at the German Institute for International and International Affairs. Security Service in Berlin.

“Pressure on Leopards is mounting from the Poles, the British and the Finns, but it is about one particular partner, the United States, which is more equal than the others,” she said. “With the Ramstein meeting coming up, I hope it happens soon.”

A senior Biden administration official said Washington was not pushing Berlin to send tanks to Ukraine and that the German government would make its own decision on how much military support it would provide. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue more candidly, he described discussions between Washington and Berlin as “very positive” and said the Germans, “like us, have developed develop readiness to provide capabilities as the war has changed over time.” The official said the US did not ask its allies to stop supplying Western tanks to Ukraine.

According to Major, the Berlin-based analyst, the Germans see such a stance as a rebuff, reflecting Washington’s unwillingness to send any Abrams tanks to Ukraine. She said that just one Abrams from Washington was enough to give Mr. Scholz the freedom to act.

For now, proponents of tanking are focused on getting some countries to take the first action.

Norbert Röttgen, an opposition German lawmaker and foreign policy expert, predicts that Mr. Scholz will yield to Leopards under pressure from allies, as he has done before with German-made howitzers and vehicles crawler infantry combat.

Mr. Scholz and his party “want to keep the relationship with Russia and with Putin going into the future, and think that if he gives Ukraine the best that Germany has, then Russia will see this as breaking a relationship.” special relationship,” said Mr. Röttgen. “But the pressure from allies is getting too strong.”

Lara Jakes reports from Rome and Steven Erlanger from Brussels. Report contributed by Erika Salomon from Berlin, Michael Schwirtz from New York, Stephen’s Castle and mark the landing person from London, Andrew Higgins from Prague and Julian E. Barnes from Washington.


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