The German government has announced that Germany will send Leopard 2-type battle tanks to Ukraine and will allow other countries that possess Leopard 2s to send them to the Ukrainian military. The decision was made after considerable hesitation and controversy, because for weeks Germany had hesitated to accept the shipment of tanks, fearing to provoke Russia too much. Ultimately, the decision was hailed as a possible breakthrough on the battlefield in the Ukrainian east, where the powerful and versatile German tanks could have a major effect.
At the same time, US President Joe Biden is also expected to announce on Wednesday – or in any case during the week, according to American newspapers – the shipment of M1 Abrams-type tanks to Ukraine. The two announcements are connected, because according to various journalistic rumors, not officially confirmed, the German government had made it a condition for sending the Leopards that the United States also send their tanks to Ukraine.
The activism of some Eastern European states also contributed to the German decision to send the Leopards, in particular Poland, whose government in recent weeks had exerted enormous pressure both to convince Germany to send its tanks and to provide authorization for Poland to send its Army Leopards to Ukraine. Germany, which produces the Leopards and exports them to various countries, contractually has the right of veto if a country that has bought the Leopards, such as Poland, wants to sell them to a third country, such as the Ukraine. In recent weeks, the Polish government has insisted very much on the possibility of sending the Leopards to Ukraine, so much so that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had even said that he would send them even without German consent, embarrassing Chancellor Scholz.
At that point, between Polish pressure and the American decision to send Abrams, it had become very difficult for Germany to continue withholding Leopards, and the German government was forced to give way.
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It is still difficult to predict what effect the sending of Leopard and Abrams tanks will have on the front in Ukraine. Much will depend on how many vehicles will be sent and how quickly they will be able to be put into operation by the Ukrainian army: this means that the times for sending the vehicles will also have to be added to the training times of the personnel (pilots, mechanical crew), the supply of spare parts and the fine-tuning of logistical activities for the supply and exchange of ammunition.
According to a statement from the German government, Germany will initially send 14 Leopard 2s to Ukraine, which will be joined by tanks sent from supplies from other countries. It is now probable that Poland will send its own Leopards, but there have also been talks of Finland and Denmark. More than ten European countries have Leopard tanks in their armies. The German army will also take over the training of Ukrainian personnel.
According to rumors published by American newspapers, the United States should send about thirty M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Before they can be used by the Ukrainian army, however, it could take time: we are talking about many months, or even years. Such long times are dictated by the difficulties of transport but also by the difficulty of personnel training and by the need to develop all the logistical aspects to ensure that the Abrams can operate at their best. Among other things, unlike the Leopards which use a diesel engine, the Abrams use a turbine engine which has better performance but requires much more fuel, and this makes it necessary to solve supply and refueling problems.
In addition to Germany, Poland and soon the United States, the United Kingdom government has also recently authorized the sending of 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.
The hope of the Ukrainian army is that a substantial part of Western tanks will be able to arrive and be usable by the spring, when many analysts predict that Ukraine will attempt a new offensive against the occupying forces of Russia.
As Daniele Raineri explained in Repubblica, in the early stages of the war both the Russians and the Ukrainians had fought with old Soviet-era tanks, but as these vehicles had been destroyed or rendered unusable, the Russian army had begun to send vehicles to Ukraine more modern and powerful, the T-90 tanks. The result, the Ukrainian soldiers told Raineri, is that «to beat a Russian T-90 tank (…) it takes at least “three tanks of ours”». The German Leopards, the American Abrams and the British Challengers would be able to bridge this gap in military power, and indeed would allow the Ukrainians to have superior tanks to those of the Russians.
The New York Times interviewed Robert B. Abrams, a retired American general whose father, Creighton Abrams, gave his namesake tanks. Abrams said that compared to Russian tanks, American ones are significantly superior: “They will tear them apart. They can puncture anything.”