Russia Downplays West's Move on Tanks 01/26 06:10
From Washington to Berlin to Kyiv, a Western decision to send battle tanks
to Ukraine was hailed enthusiastically. Moscow first shrugged it off -- and
later launched another barrage of attacks.
(AP) -- From Washington to Berlin to Kyiv, a Western decision to send battle
tanks to Ukraine was hailed enthusiastically. Moscow first shrugged it off --
and later launched another barrage of attacks.
The Kremlin has previously warned that such tank deliveries would be a
dangerous escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, and it has strongly denounced
the watershed move by Germany and the United States to send the heavy weaponry
to its foe.
But it insists the new armor won't stop Russia from achieving its goals in
"The potential it gives to the Ukrainian armed forces is clearly
exaggerated," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "Those tanks will burn just
like any others."
Moscow played down the move right after the announcement in an apparent
attempt to save face as the West raised the stakes in Ukraine. Some Russian
experts also emphasized that the supply of the deadly armor will be relatively
limited and could take months to reach the front.
On Thursday, Russia launched a new wave of missiles and self-exploding
drones across Ukraine -- the latest in a series of strikes, many of which have
targeted power plants and other key infrastructure.
Russian military bloggers and commentators say that such attacks involve
meticulous preparaton -- so the latest barrage was likely planned in advance
and was not necessarily linked to the tank announcement.
Yohann Michel, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think
tank, observed that while Western arms supplies irk Russia, it can do nothing
to stop them. "It's a problem that they can't necessarily address," he said,
noting that earlier decisions by the U.S. and its allies to supply air-defense
weapons to Ukraine could have been even more worrying for Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin, his diplomats and military leaders have repeatedly
warned the West that supplying long-range weapons capable of striking deep
inside Russia would mark a red line and trigger a massive retaliation.
While other weapons like tanks and certain air defense systems have drawn
warnings from Russian officials, the wording has been deliberately vague,
perhaps to allow the Kremlin to avoid getting cornered by making specific
Poland, the Czech Republic and other NATO countries have already provided
Ukraine with hundreds of smaller Soviet-made tanks from the Cold War era when
they were part of the Soviet bloc. Ukrainian armed forces, who have used
similar aging weaponry, needed no extra training to use them. They played an
important role on the battlefield, helping Ukraine reclaim broad swaths of
territory in 11 months of fighting.
As Ukraine's armored units suffered attrition and stockpiles of the old T-72
tanks ran dry in the arsenals of its allies in Central and Eastern Europe, Kyiv
has increasingly pushed for delivery of German-made Leopard 2 and U.S. M1
After weeks of hesitation, Germany said Wednesday it will provide Ukraine
with 14 Leopard 2 tanks and allow other allies willing to follow suit to
deliver 88 Leopards to form two tank battalions. The U.S. announced it will
send 31 M1 Abrams tanks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his officials, who long have
said the country needs hundreds of tanks to counter a foe with a far superior
number as well as other weapons, greeted the Western decision as a major
breakthrough, voicing hope that more supplies would follow.
"The deliveries of Leopard 2 will take our ground forces to a qualitatively
new level," Ukrainian military expert Oleh Zhdanov told The Associated Press.
Even though Leopard 2s are heavier than Soviet-designed tanks, they have a
strong edge in firepower and survivability.
"One Leopard 2 could be equivalent to three or five Russian tanks," Zhdanov
But he noted that the promised number of Western tanks represents only the
minimum that Ukraine needs to repel a likely offensive by Moscow, adding that
Russia has thousands of armored vehicles.
"Kyiv is preparing for a defensive operation, and its outcome will determine
the future course of the conflict," Zhdanov said.
Russian military analysts were more skeptical about the Western tanks,
arguing that while Abrams proved clearly superior to older models of
Soviet-built tanks during the war in Iraq, newer Russian models are more
closely matched. They also charged that Leopard 2 tanks used by the Turkish
army against the Kurds in Syria proved vulnerable to Soviet-era anti-tank
Some Russian online media quickly posted diagrams of the vulnerable points
of the Leopard 2. "Hit Leopard as your grandfather hit Tiger and Panther!" one
headline said, referring to Nazi tanks in World War II.
Andrei Kartapolov, a retired general who heads the defense affairs committee
in the lower house of the Russian parliament, argued that both Leopard 2 and
Abrams are inferior to Russia's T-90, a modified version of the T-72.
The latest Russian tank, the T-14 Armata, has been manufactured only in
small numbers and so far hasn't been used in the war. The British Ministry of
Defense said in its latest intelligence update that Russia has worked to
prepare a small batch of T-14s for deployment in Ukraine, but said it had
engine and other problems.
Russian observers, meanwhile, noted it could take a significant time for the
Western tanks to reach Ukraine, adding that training Ukrainians to use them and
properly maintain them would add to the challenge.
"It likely means that the Ukrainian military will probably receive a few
small batches of tanks that could be incompatible with each other,"
Moscow-based defense analyst Ilya Kramnik said in a commentary.
Zhdanov, the Ukrainian military analyst, argued that by agreeing to provide
Ukraine with tanks, the West crossed an important psychological barrier and
could eventually follow up by supplying even more deadly weapons.
"Handing over Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine marks a major change in the policy
of Western allies, who stopped fearing escalation and are now ready to
challenge Russia in the war of resources," he said. "The West is forced to more
widely open the doors to its military arsenals to Ukraine."
Speaking in a video address late Wednesday, Zelenskyy hailed the creation of
what he called a "tank coalition" and said Ukraine now will seek more artillery
and push for unlocking supplies of long-range missiles and, ultimately,
Ukrainian officials long have expressed hope for getting U.S. F-16 fighter
jets and long-range rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems,
known as HIMARS, to hit targets far behind the front lines.
Such desires drew ominous remarks from Russian diplomat Konstantin Gavrilov,
similar to the kind voiced earlier by Putin and others.
"If Washington and NATO give Kyiv weapons to strike peaceful cities deep
inside Russia and try to seize the territories that constitutionally belong to
Russia, it will force Moscow to take harsh retaliatory action," Gavrilov told a
meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "Don't tell
us then that we haven't warned you."