‘We need action’: Time is running out for Ukraine as allies debate
Frustration with Germany boils over. Arming Ukraine “is not some kind of decision-making exercise,” Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau tweeted after the 50-nation Ukrainian Defense Contact Group meeting in Ramstein, Germany, friday. “Ukrainian blood is shed for real. This is the price of hesitation in the face of Leopard deliveries. We need action now.
Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur agreed that the debates were hurting Ukraine’s prospects.
“Any delay will have a [effect]”, he said by text. “What is it big [effect] could be is very difficult to predict.
The issue simmered throughout the week as world leaders gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum.
There, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met privately with US lawmakers and told them that Germany would not send its tanks unless the US transferred its own first, as reported POLITICO.
The affair came to a head at the Ramstein meeting on Friday, where German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters that Berlin had still not decided what he would do, but left the door open. upon approval of the transfer.
“None of us can say yet when a decision will be made and what the decision will look like,” he said, adding that he had instructed the German military to review the country’s inventory so that can act quickly if they decide to send the tanks. .
“We have repeated that more tanks are needed,” said an Eastern European official, who asked not to be named in order to speak candidly. “We still have hope.”
Following the meeting, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the United States and its allies were “pushing hard to meet Ukraine’s requirements for tanks and other armored vehicles.” Yet he mostly avoided the intense debate over whether to send American and German tanks.
Austin also denied reports that sending American tanks was a condition for Germany to send its own.
The fight ahead
Fighting in Ukraine this spring will rely heavily on tanks on both sides of the line, and after a year of hard fighting, Kyiv desperately needs more modern Western models to enable them to overwhelm the hundreds of Russian tanks and armored vehicles out there. lookout. .
Getting this new equipment into the hands of Ukrainian soldiers quickly will go a long way in determining when Ukraine can launch its offensives this year, said Rob Lee of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
“I think the delivery and training schedule will influence when Ukraine chooses to pursue its most ambitious offensives,” Lee said, adding that the Leopards could be better than the M1 Abrams tanks the US has. refused to offer. This is because Leopards are less complicated to operate and maintain. “If the Ukrainians can get the Leopards under control earlier than Abrams, they could play a bigger role in the offenses this summer.”
Still, vehicle donations so far have been significant. In recent weeks, the United States has committed to sending Bradley combat vehicles. Sweden announced that it would donate CV90 armored vehicles and Germany promised to ship Marder vehicles. All three models are heavily armored tracked vehicles with powerful autocannons capable of chewing through armor and absorbing incoming fire.
These infantry carriers, along with Humvees, mine-resistant vehicles and Stryker infantry carriers from the United States, would likely be at the forefront of new armored units far more powerful than anything that Ukraine – or most nations – has been able to deploy. They will be backed by dozens of new mobile howitzers pledged this week by the United States, Denmark and Sweden to form a deadly combined-arms punch.
Speaking after the rally in Ramstein on Friday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley said the new armor and artillery were equivalent to two US combined arms maneuver brigades or six infantry battalions. mechanized.
Training Ukrainian troops on this equipment has already begun in Germany, an effort Milley saw firsthand this week during a visit to a US training site. “This training in addition to the equipment will greatly increase Ukraine’s ability to defend against Russian attacks and to go on the tactical and operational offensive to liberate occupied areas,” Milley said.
Ben Hodges, a former US Army Europe commander, said the new armored units will likely be “trained and prepared to serve as a breakthrough formation for the next major offensive phase of the campaign.” I anticipate it will be at least three months before they are able to do this. It will be built around Ukrainian armor that they already have or have captured, but Western tanks [armored fighting vehicles and artillery] will help make it more lethal.
Hurry up and wait
Even if Berlin decides to send its tanks, or authorizes other countries to send theirs, the expedition will not happen immediately.
German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall recently said that it would probably take until 2024 to deliver combat-ready Leopards to Ukraine, given the poor condition of many German tanks.
Countries like Poland, Finland and Norway would likely be able to deliver their Leopards sooner, although a European defense official said it could take two months to fully train Ukrainian crews on the tanks.
It is also unclear when the 14 Challenger tanks promised by the UK will have trained crews ready to operate them.
The United States, meanwhile, is walking a fine line in encouraging Germany to act while noting that it is that country’s decision.
“These are sovereign decisions. We respect them. We welcome them,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday. “We believe there is a need for armored capability, including tanks inside Ukraine, and the Leopard tank is a formidable system.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made it clear Friday that the debate must end and that empty platitudes are not enough.
“Hundreds of ‘thanks’ are not hundreds of tanks,” he told the group in Ramstein via video address. “We can all use thousands of words, but I can’t put words, instead of necessary weapons, against Russian artillery.”