US President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced 31 Abrams tanks for Ukraine while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared his country would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks.
This is apart from the 14 Challenger-2 British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak approved last week, taking the total number of Western tanks heading to Ukraine to 59. However, the number of tanks is far from the 300 Ukraine President Vladimir Zelensky had said would be needed to push back Russia.
The decision came after months of reluctance on both the American and the German side, where the latter finally put the onus on Washington to take the lead and pressure off Berlin – which had indicated readiness and in-principle approval but no explicit formal declaration to that end.
The US decision was also a divergence from previous unofficial positions taken by Biden administration officials, who maintained that the heavy M1 Abrams tanks would be difficult to deliver, expensive to maintain, and challenging for Ukrainian troops to operate.
Russia Appears Prepared
The reactions from Russia have been critical yet calm, where neither the political nor the military leadership has expressed alarm and seems confident that the heavy weapons are not posing a major strategic threat.
Even Western analysts largely agree the tanks will not be able to turn around the battlefield situation, which is already in Russia’s favor. Moscow will try and solidify its positions in Bakhmut (Artemovsk), Soledar, and Zaporizhzhia by the time the tanks reach Ukraine.
It has introduced its T-90M ‘Provy’ (Breakthrough) tanks that have been praised by its Ukrainian opponents and have other supporting assets like a large artillery and aircraft (fixed and rotary wing) inventory to complement its armored operations.
Moscow also appointed its Chief of Staff General Valery Gerasimov as the Ukraine war commander, transferring him from his previous position in anticipation of a ‘tank war’ breaking out in Ukraine. Gerasimov is a career armored corps officer and one of the Russian ground forces’ most senior tankmen.
Experts on Telegram groups indicate that President Putin would prefer wrapping up the war by capturing the intended regions before the tanks hit the battlefield and declaring an end to the Special Military Operation (SMO) – even if he retains the military capability of efficiently tackling them.
The eventual destruction of Western tanks would embarrass US and Germany, triggering a retaliatory cycle of military aid that would continue the conflict.
US, Germany Bite The (Tank) Bullet
“Putin expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve. He was wrong from the beginning, and he continues to be wrong. We’re also giving Ukraine the necessary parts and equipment to sustain these tanks in battle.
This is about helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia,” Biden said at the White House before cameras, in the presence of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The variant to be sent to Ukraine, whether the M1A1 or the M1A2, has not been specified. The latest package will also involve M88A2 Hercules armored recovery vehicles and ammunition, the number of which is also unknown.
However, the 14 German Leopard-2s will, comprise the Leopard-2A6 variant, according to Der Spiegel, and possibly be from the Bundeswehr’s (German Army) fleet. Formal approval will also be issued to other European and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries for transferring their Leopard tanks. A sanction from Berlin is required to re-export weapons it has developed.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said that the first tanks from Germany should be in Ukraine in three months and that the training of Ukrainian crew in Germany should begin “soon.”
As German media has previously claimed, citing figures from the German Ministry of Defense, that as of May 22, the Bundeswehr had 312 Leopard-2 tanks, including 212 in service, 99 under repair or being upgraded to the Leopard 2A7V variant, while one was to be decommissioned.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) mentioned that the tanks would be provided as a part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which means the weapons would not come from the American military’s inventory but from the manufacturer.
This means it will be a few months until the Abrams reach Ukraine. Russia is likely to aim to take the remaining bits of territory in the breakaway regions in Donbas and the south and keep the war from escalating.
The Biden administration not sending readily available tanks from its inventory does not merely have a military objective of not depleting its ammunition stocks. It also indicates a reluctance not to provoke Moscow with a big instigation but rather in small incremental doses that meets its objectives – keep the war from engulfing Europe while strategically confronting Moscow.
The Canadian press meanwhile too quoted a senior Canadian government official, who said the government is considering providing Ukraine with four or five Leopard 2 tanks from the Canadian Forces, but no final decision has yet been made.
Canada possesses 20 Leopard 2A6M CAN, 20 Leopard 2A4M CAN, and 42 of the Leopard 2A4 CAN version.