What started with a conversation about helmets, vests and old equipment has, after a year of war, turned into a discussion about Western tanks and modern missile systems. Ukraine’s allies have already delivered around 4,000 armored vehicles, artillery pieces, aircraft and other weapons.
But Russia is preparing for a long-term fight. President Putin has urged the defense industry to increase production. And in Russia they are preparing for another round of mobilization.
Therefore, after the more than 100 billion euros in military aid so far, the question is: how much and what kind of weapons does Ukraine need? Ukraine’s allies are discussing this today at the US military base Ramstein in Germany. The main point of discussion: the supply of advanced Western tanks such as the Leopard.
“Weapons deliveries are a slippery slope, three months ago the delivery of this type of tank was still unthinkable,” says George Dimitriu of the Clingendael Institute. “Yet the criticism of the West remains that support for Ukraine is enough not to lose, but not enough to win.”
The Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny gave in an interview with The Economist published stark figures a month ago: his country needs another 300 tanks, 600 to 700 combat vehicles and 500 artillery pieces to defeat Russia. A key advisor shared on Twitter a specific ‘wish list’ in early December, including Leopards and Patriots.
Even if the West is going to provide all this, the question, according to Dimitriu, is whether it will be enough in the long term. “Ukraine is now faced with a dilemma: The longer they wait with new offensives, the more time Russia has to complete the mobilization,” says professor by special appointment in war studies Frans Osinga. “That’s why they say to Western leaders: hurry up.”
NATO member states were initially hesitant to provide Western tanks. Until now, only Eastern European countries – including Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia – have supplied tanks. There were hundreds of them, but they were old Soviet tanks (such as the T-72) that could be relatively easily incorporated into the Ukrainian army.
Tanks are very useful for a Ukrainian offensive, especially western ones. They are better than the average Russian tank in terms of armor, firepower and technology. The UK was recently the first to convert and will supply fourteen challengers. The question is whether more countries will follow suit.
Advanced western weaponry just requires a lot more training and will take months to deploy effectively. Also, the current numbers are nowhere near what Zaluzhny says he needs. “What the West is now considering delivering will not have an immediate impact on the battlefield,” Dimitriu concludes.
In addition to tanks, Western countries also supply other combat vehicles. The US will supply 50 Bradleys, Germany 40 Marders. France has pledged an undisclosed number of AMX-10RCs to be used as reconnaissance vehicles.
These types of armored vehicles are mainly intended to transport troops and are often equipped with a light caliber gun and anti-tank weapons to support the soldiers in battle. Newer Western vehicles like the Bradley are also a match for older Russian tanks, according to experts.
Infantry fighting vehicles should not be confused with the light armored vehicles without guns. They usually cannot support the fight and are primarily meant to move troops. Ukraine has already received about 2,000 of these. Canada pledged another 200 this week.
In the first months of the war, the pressure on the West to supply artillery was great. Ukraine was no match for the superior numbers of the Russian artillery – both in numbers and range.
The US has therefore already delivered more than two hundred M777, a heavy artillery piece often used in Donbas. Also, more than four hundred mechanized artillery pieces have been delivered or are in production – such as the armored howitzers in Germany and the Netherlands.
Other advanced systems
In addition to tanks, artillery pieces and armored vehicles, there is also increasing pressure to provide other advanced weapons. Prime Minister Rutte announced this week that the Netherlands wants to participate in a plan by the US and Germany to send patriots. This type of anti-aircraft gun is used to shoot Russian missiles – like the ones that fell in Dnipro last weekend – out of the sky. Although here too, the few patriots sent will not be enough to protect all of Ukraine.
In addition, advanced weapons such as the Himar are already being sent to Ukraine. These can perform precision attacks from a longer distance. For example, hundreds of Russian soldiers were killed in Donbas in an attack on New Year’s Day.
The highly advanced ATACMS missile system is also on the Ukrainian wish list. This would allow Ukraine to hit targets deep inside Russia. “And thus disrupt a Russian advance far behind the front,” says professor by special appointment Osinga. “Then you can make life very difficult for Russia and ensure that they cannot launch a major offensive.”
But if targets in Russia are hit with Western weapons, the war could easily escalate further, the US fears. After all the changes in the past year, this is still a clear red line for now.