Almost since the start of the war, the Ukrainians have been pleading with the West for tanks to help fight off the Russian invasion. Ukraine had some Soviet-era T-72s when the war started. A few eastern NATO countries like Poland gave Ukraine additional T-72 tanks. Ukraine also captured some T-72 tanks from Russia and repurposed those, but aging tanks aren’t as effective on the battlefield as modern tanks.
The United Kingdom committed to sending some newer Challenger 2 main battle tanks. Challengers are fierce and effective. The British Army used them in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq. However, Britain is only sending 14 Challengers, which won’t be enough armor to stop an impending Russian counteroffensive.
Speaking by video conference to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, “The supplies of Western tanks must outpace another invasion of Russian tanks. The restoration of security and peace in Ukraine must outpace Russia’s attacks on security and peace in other countries.”
The U.S. and Germany have two of the best tanks in the world in the Abrams and Leopard 2. Both countries did commit to sending armored infantry fighting vehicles. The U.S. is sending around 50 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles. Germany will send Marders. IFVs can be used effectively against Russian tanks, but they still aren’t main battle tanks. Germany and the U.S. remain in lockstep in not sending tanks to Ukraine.
Even if the White House decided to send Abrams tanks tomorrow, it would likely be months before Ukrainian soldiers had enough training to operate them effectively on the battlefield.
Tanks are complicated pieces of machinery and require constant maintenance. Also, it can’t be understated that the Abrams is powered by a turbine jet engine, which is significantly more complicated to use or maintain than the diesel motors found in T-72s.
NATO allies in Europe have around 2000 German-made Leopard 2 tanks. Poland, Finland and Denmark said they’d be willing to send Ukraine their Leopards, but Germany has to sign off on that. German leaders this week indicated the country could be persuaded to sign off on sending its own Leopards and allowing allies to do the same, but only if the U.S. also sends Abrams tanks.
There’s no doubt main battle tanks like the Abrams and Leopard would make a huge impact on the war. Hundreds of modern Western tanks barreling through the Ukraine countryside could cause the Russian army to collapse in weeks, forcing Vladimir Putin into a corner, which is why the U.S. and Germany have yet to send tanks.
Russia said using nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be justified if the Russian homeland is directly threatened. When Putin illegally annexed large swaths of eastern Ukraine, he said those lands were under the nuclear protection of Russia.
This week, Russia’s former president and Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev said a Russian defeat in Ukraine could trigger a nuclear war. It’s the first time someone so close to Putin acknowledged Russia might lose, which military analysts said shows just how concerned Moscow is over Western weapons shipments to Ukraine.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.