By Ethan Percival
As the war in Ukraine slowly drags on into the first full year of the conflict, Ukraine has shown time and time again the strength and resilience of its people. In the previous months, Ukraine has slowly and strategically beat the invading Russian forces back towards the Russian border. However, as the grueling struggle continues, more and more weaponry and supplies have poured into the war torn Ukraine from countries around the world.
Among the largest contributors are from Ukraine’s neighboring defense alliance, NATO, which has collectively donated $40 billion worth of defensive aid. For most of the conflict, the alliance has worked together to send Ukraine the weaponry it desperately needs to fight Russia. One field of weaponry in the Ukrainian that desperately needs modernization is its armored divisions which, as of now consist mainly of aging Soviet-era tanks with a handful of captured modern Russian models, such as the T-90. However, in recent weeks, an issue between several of the allied nations has formed over the donation of new western tanks to Ukraine.
Last week, on January 14, the Office of British PM, Rishi Sunak, announced that the UK would send 14 of their modern Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. Similarly, Poland (which on top of 14 Leopard 2s, will also send 30 PT-91 Twardys, a Polish modernized variant of the Soviet T-72), Finland, Sweden, Canada, Norway, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Lithuania have announced that they either are willing to or want to send their own supplies of the German manufactured Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank. The Leopard 2 is powerful, fast, and fuel-efficient, making it perfect for the Ukrainians fight against Russia. However, in order to do so, the German government must give these nations approval in order for them to do so.
In the last week, Germany has also been pressured by its allied nations to send some of their own supplies of the Leopard 2 as well. On the 19th, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with his German counterpart to discuss the possibility of sending some of their own supplies of the Leopard 2 to Ukraine as well. The German government laid out that it is willing to give the Ukrainian military a supply of Leopard 2s on the condition that the US would send its coveted M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank to the fight as well.
For those who don’t know, the M1 Abrams is one of most modern and powerful tanks in the world with a lengthy and successful history in previous wars. Critics of this demand point out that though the Abrams is a formidable weapon, its extremely high fuel consumption may not be ideal for the Ukrainian military capabilities. Furthermore, in the past, the US has remained reluctant to send the Abrams into Ukraine, fearing it may be too high of an escalation against Russia. Nonetheless, the German had appeared to remain adamant on their request and the meeting looked as if it had failed to bring a resolution.
Or so it was thought. In a twist of fate, on Tuesday, January 24th Germany announced it would not only approve and support its allied neighbors decision to send their Leopard 2s to Ukraine, but they would also contribute a company of Leopard 2 (14 tanks total) to the Ukrainian war effort with more to come. Perhaps what’s even more surprising, is that the very next day, on the 25th of January, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, declared that the US would deliver 31 Abrams Tanks to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, each of which will be the more modern M1A2 variation of Abrams instead of the M1A1. .
The news of these deliveries of these Main Battle Tanks couldn’t come any sooner for Ukraine as the west predicts a potential major Russian offensive in the spring of this year. The introduction and implementation of this vehicle before then will help the Ukrainian repel the Russian attacks and push them back even further. As of now, the alliance hopes to assemble two battalions (88 to 100 units) worth of Leopard 2 tanks to equip the Ukrainian war effort.
Unfortunately, the announcement prompted a rapid response from the Kremlin, with a total of 55 missiles launched with 47 of which being shot down by the Ukrainian Air Defense system. The attack targeted the Ukrainian energy system and the strikes resulted in the killing of 11 people across the country and 35 buildings left damaged. Additionally, the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called the donation evidence of NATO’s, “direct involvement in the conflict.”
Regardless of the threats by Russia, the deliveries will proceed with Ukrainian crews beginning the training process and it is expected that the first Challengers and Leopards will arrive between the end of March and the beginning of the summer. This utilization of these tanks could be pivotal in tilting the armor war in Ukraine’s favor.