Germany and the U.S. overcame months of reluctance in the past 24 hours to commit to sending heavy combat tanks to Ukraine. Russia responded with official bluster, but others in Moscow fear that the tanks delivery could be a gamechanger on the battlefield.
A week of growing expectations of a coming Russian offensive was turned on its head Wednesday as Germany and the U.S. announced their intention to send heavy combat tanks to Ukraine.
The sudden show of resolve on supplying tanks — after months of reluctance, particularly from Germany — has prompted some Russians to fear that Ukraine will now be equipped for a major counterattack. That would be a significant reversal after speculation had been growing this month about a Russian spring offensive.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government confirmed Wednesday morning that Berlin plans to send at least 14 German-built Leopard 2 tanks to the frontline. U.S. media also reported that Joe Biden’s administration is expected to officially announce Washington's commitment, with at least 30 M1 Abrams tanks expected to be sent.
The timeline remains unclear as to when the vehicles would make it into combat. Still, both sides on the war acknowledged that it is a significant development with the potential to change the math on the battlefield.
Official Russian response was loaded with typical incendiary rhetoric. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian president Vladimir Putin, said the new tanks would "burn like all the rest, only these ones are expensive.”
Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the U.S., told state media company TASS that the news was “another blatant provocation” and that U.S. tanks would “be destroyed by our military “the same all other NATO equipment has and will be destroyed.”
Will French tanks be next?
One Russian political commentator Ivan Arkatov told media site Novorossiya that Germany’s announcement, which followed America’s, showed that the U.S. was the puppet-master of the West.
“This is an indicator of Germany's lack of sovereignty. It is not for nothing that a large number of U.S. military bases are located in Germany. If the Germans are already under the spell of the Americans, what can we say about other Western countries?”
Until now, the U.S. and Germany have resisted pressure to join the British military — which promised last week to send a dozen Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine — in sending heavy armor to Ukraine, fearing the move would escalate the conflict and make NATO a direct party to the war with Russia. Washington has also previously cited the extensive training and maintenance that the high-tech Abrams tanks demand.
While the reported number of tanks is likely to fall short of the 300 Ukraine says it needs to win the war, the move could spark a chain reaction of other Western nations sending similar aid — including France, where the government is also considering sending its own Leclerc tanks to the frontline.
This would allow Ukraine to make substantial attacks on the ground and, combined with the Patriot air defense systems pledged by the U.S. at the end of last year, could help Ukraine to make serious progress on the battlefield.
I hope this time our intelligence will be able to figure out where this offensive will be.
Pro-Putin political scientist Sergei Markov wrote on his Telegram channel that he feared “All this was being done for the planned spring offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine under the command of NATO generals.”
Russian political scientist Malek Dudakov shared Markov’s concerns, but suggested that a possible offensive may not come as early as spring. “Washington will have to make concessions. They will need to specifically purchase Abrams for Ukraine, since it was not part of their original plan to give away their tanks,” Dudakov suggested.
Commenters on a RIA Novosti article reporting the announcement were also fearful. “Now that Kyiv is being supplied directly with tanks, our men will become exhausted,” one person said. “They will pour a hundred tanks into the fire every three months. It will drag out the conflict. If we want to succeed we will need to use bombers from the air.”
Another commenter stressed the need for Russia to actively prepare for the coming offensive, if it hoped to interrupt the battlefield defeats that have become all too common for Russia: “(Ukraine) will prepare a major offensive with the participation of all Western Challenger tanks, Leopards and armored vehicles sent to Ukraine,” the commenter said. “I hope this time our intelligence will be able to figure out where this offensive will be and the army will be ready to avoid another Kharkiv repeat.”