Main battle tanks could become crucial for a renewed Ukrainian offensive. But as the West discusses supplies, Russian forces are digging in and bringing in new troops, military experts say. “Time speaks for Russia,” says Austrian Colonel Markus Reisner.
Almost eleven months after the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the fighting is in a tough phase: Both sides are making little progress, many soldiers die for a few meters of ground gain. According to many military experts, Ukraine must go on the offensive – and that requires battle tanks.
“Everyone” is waiting for a Ukrainian counterattack “later this winter,” says Mark Cancian, a retired US Marine officer and now an advisor to the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). But when it comes to battle tanks, Germany in particular is hesitant.
“While we are debating, the Russians are creating facts in Ukraine. The longer they dig in, the more difficult it will be for Ukraine to recapture these areas,” says Colonel Markus Reisner from the General Staff of the Austrian Armed Forces in an interview with “ntv”. “Time speaks for Russia.”
There is “no alternative” to the delivery of heavy tanks, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday, and this is becoming “more clear every day”. And the Ukrainian Chief of General Staff Valeriy Saluschnyi appealed to the West weeks ago: If you want Ukraine to go on the offensive again, then we need another 300 main battle tanks and 500-600 infantry fighting vehicles.
The war has meanwhile turned into a war of attrition, explains Reisner, in which weapons and troops have to be delivered again and again. In order to make gains, Ukraine should have sustained the counteroffensive, Reisner said. Now both Ukraine and Russia are preparing for another offensive. “The longer Ukraine waits to do this, the more time Russia has to dig in at the relevant lines and organize troops that have been missing in recent months.”
The United States and other countries recently announced the delivery of a large number of armored vehicles that can play an important role in new Ukrainian advances. Washington agreed to supply 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers and 59 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. Germany has agreed to deliver about 40 Marder armored personnel carriers, and France will provide AMX-10 RC light tanks. Great Britain even promised 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks.
Armored personnel carriers are the appropriate means of transport to transport infantry to take a city, explains Gian Gentile, a former US officer and now senior military historian at the think tank RAND Corporation. But for offensives, battle tanks are the best choice, since the army has to reckon with confrontation with enemy tanks. Reisner also confirms this: “The main battle tank is an offensive weapon.”
However, he emphasizes that the main battle tank alone is not enough, but should always be seen in connection with armored personnel carriers and artillery. Therefore it is completely logical that after the delivery of armored personnel carriers a discussion about the delivery of battle tanks should be held.
The US is reluctant to supply Ukraine with Abrams main battle tanks, citing maintenance and training problems as the reason. And Germany has so far refused to supply Leopard tanks. According to Cancian, it would take a large number of such heavy tanks to make a significant difference on the current battlefield.
The Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Resnikov announced on Saturday to the US foreign broadcaster “Voice of America” that Ukrainian soldiers would be trained on German Leopard main battle tanks in Poland – this was not confirmed by either party. He was “optimistic” about the delivery of the Leopard tanks himself: he believes that Germany will finally get through to it.