In a recent address, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed gratitude towards Western leaders for their decision to provide tanks to assist in the ongoing conflict but emphasized the need for swift delivery. Additionally, he called for the West to send additional military aid, such as long-range missiles and fighter jets. These statements were made following announcements from the United States and Germany that they would be sending Abrams and Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
Zelensky expressed gratitude towards Western nations for providing tanks to assist in the conflict with Russia. He stressed the importance of these resources being delivered expediently. He called on the West to also provide long-range missiles & fighter jets to aid in the war. pic.twitter.com/RjZpDB3Aan
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) January 26, 2023
Russia criticized the move, calling it a “blatant provocation” and claiming that any tanks supplied would be destroyed. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, stated that the tanks would “burn like all the rest” and added that they were “very expensive.” President Zelensky emphasized the need for progress in defense cooperation during a conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. He specifically highlighted Ukraine’s desire for long-range missiles, artillery, and a significant number of tanks.
Zelensky emphasized the importance of forming a powerful tank force to prevent tyranny from arising again. Although the Ukrainian leader may prioritize equipping the Ukrainian air force with advanced fighter jets after securing tanks, some Western governments are opposed to this move due to concerns about the potential use of the aircraft against targets inside Russia. During a speech in Berlin on Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz outlined a plan for tank deliveries to Ukraine, emphasizing that no fighter jets would be included.
Ukrainian Lobbying Efforts for Military Equipment Result in Western Allies’ Support
Ukraine has been advocating for Western allies to provide military equipment for months. The same day, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would provide 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The announcement of these tank deliveries came after Germany decided to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and opened the opportunity for other European countries to contribute German-made tanks from their own inventory.
The recent announcements of tank deliveries were seen as a significant milestone by Ukraine, as it believed it would enable its military to regain its footing and reclaim occupied territory, which had been under Russian control for nearly a year. Additionally, Ukraine stated that the tanks would serve as a deterrent against a potential Russian offensive in the upcoming spring.
In announcing the decision to provide tanks to Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden stated that Putin had wrongly believed that Europe and the United States would falter in their resolve. He went on to say that the tanks, necessary parts, and equipment were being delivered to aid Ukraine in defending and protecting its own land and not as an offensive threat to Russia.
President Biden explained that the number of tanks being provided, 31, aligns with the typical size of a Ukrainian tank battalion. However, this decision marks a change in stance from the Biden administration, as it had previously expressed concern that the heavy M1 Abrams tanks would be difficult to transport, costly to maintain, and challenging for Ukrainian troops to use.
Challenges in Obtaining and Operating Modern US-made Tanks for Ukraine
The M1 Abrams tank, which is manufactured in the U.S., is considered one of the most advanced tanks in the world and requires extensive training to operate. The $400m package from the U.S. also includes eight recovery vehicles to tow the tanks if they become immobile, as well as ammunition, equipment, and funding for training and maintenance. However, it will likely take several months for the tanks to reach Ukraine.
Moreover, the White House national security spokesman John Kirby stated that there are no surplus Abrams tanks in the U.S. inventory. Thus they will have to be procured from private contractors or obtained from another country. The Leopard 2 tanks, manufactured in Germany, will be taken from existing stocks and are expected to arrive in two to three months. These tanks are widely considered among the most formidable in the market.
The decision to send these heavy weapons was made after weeks of diplomatic discussions. Germany came under increasing international pressure to send the tanks, and it has been reported that the final decision to do so was contingent on the U.S. taking similar action. When asked if the U.S. decision was intended to provide Germany with an opportunity to send tanks, Kirby stated, “I wouldn’t use the word cover. What this decision does do is show how unified we are with our allies.”
European Countries Send Leopard 2 Tanks to Ukraine
Kirby attributed the change in Washington’s stance to the current conditions on the ground and Russia’s tactics but did not provide further information. According to officials in Berlin, Ukrainian personnel will soon receive training on how to operate the Leopard tanks in Germany. While acquiring tanks from Western nations is viewed as a diplomatic victory for Zelensky, he has stated that his country needs at least 300 to defeat Russia.
Several European countries possess Leopard 2 tanks in their military inventory, and the German decision allowed some of these tanks to be sent to Ukraine. It is estimated that around 90 tanks will be delivered to the battlefield by Germany. Poland has expressed its intention to export 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Furthermore, Norway announced Wednesday that it plans to provide some of its armored vehicles to Ukraine without specifying the number. The United Kingdom was the first member of NATO to donate modern tanks to Ukraine when the government led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that 14 Challenger 2 tanks, which are the British army’s primary battle tank, would be provided.
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