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Nato tanks will change the complexion of the Ukraine war

German Chancellor Scholz has also given green signal to other European countries to send German-made tanks from their own stocks
A rescuer stands outside a residential building partially destroyed after a missile strike in Kharkiv on Monday. -- AFP
A rescuer stands outside a residential building partially destroyed after a missile strike in Kharkiv on Monday. -- AFP

Within a span of few hours, three landmark decisions - first by Berlin, second by Washington and then by Ottawa – have suddenly evaporated the pessimism that had enveloped the efforts towards Russia’s exit from Ukraine for quite some time.

Everyone was expecting that Ottawa would also follow suit. And it happened exactly the same way. Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand’s announcement to donate four of the Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. So, we are witnessing a snowball effect in this matter.

President Joe Biden’s decision to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, joining German Chancellor Scholz who announced a few hours earlier to send 14 Leopard 2 ranks to Ukraine to bolster the fight against Russia's war, is expected to change the whole complexion of the Ukraine war.

Scholz has also given green signal to other European countries to send German-made tanks from their own stocks. With these announcements, one of the last proscriptions - providing weapons that are primarily used for offensive rather than defensive operations - in Western support has been effectively removed.

Certainly, it is a great breakthrough in a chronic diplomatic deadlock within Nato as well as a big boost for Kyiv which has been pleading for the supplies of these fat armoured behemoths for the last several months. At the same time, it is a major morale booster for Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his people who are bracing for a major spring offensive from Russia.

Just three days ago, when the meeting of Nato defence ministers at Ramstein air base, Germany, failed to take any decision on sending tanks to Ukraine, things appeared to be very frustrating for all the stakeholders. There was consensus among all technical and defence experts on the matter that Ukraine desperately needed these tanks so as to bolster its attacking capability to push back the Russian forces from the occupied territories, but in spite of such compulsive reasons, Nato members were unable to find an amicable agreement on the methodology and quantum of tanks-supplies to Ukraine.

All players were waiting for yes from each other, but none was ready to take the lead. Immersed in their own reasons and reservations, the European capitals were exhibiting a strange kind of paralysis in their collective decision-making at this crucial phase of the Ukraine war. There is a very strong feeling in the Ukrainian military leadership about the strategic merit of tanks to push back the invading Russian forces.

Ukrainians expect that as soon as the winter season starts receding, the Russians may resume their invasion plan with more intensity. British PM Rishi Sunak was the first one who promised to send a small company of 14 Challenger 2 tanks. After Sunak’s pledge, the Ukrainians were quite hopeful that other Western countries would also follow suit. And it has happened. The decision by Germany is likely to encourage more Nato members – and the United States as well – to donate their share of tanks to build a reasonable inventory in the coming months.

Moscow has warned Nato bluntly on the supplies of tanks and other weapons to Ukraine as a “pre-planned war” against Moscow. Severe reaction from Moscow over this development does not come as a surprise.

Reports are emanating that Putin is preparing for a massive attack in the spring. But the supply of sophisticated tanks from Nato is likely to drastically alter the complexion of the Ukraine war. The arrival of tanks from Europe – and the US – will definitely change the power equation and it is expected that Putin will revisit his strategic plan in Ukraine now. Berlin’s consent to deliver Leopards 2 tanks to Ukraine has also sent two very strong messages to Putin: one, the long-drawn war in Ukraine has gradually pushed Nato members to forget their differences and display unity against the Russian war, and two, Nato members are now ready to adopt a more aggressive stance by sending “offensive warfare” to Ukraine and that they are also ready to pay the “ heavy price” for this.

Delivery of tanks to Ukraine will also have a symbolic significance and it will certainly tilt the balance of power equation towards Ukraine. Although the Russians claim that the European tanks will also “burn like all the rest”, but the fact is the all the current version of the European and American battle tanks – including Leopards 2, Challenger 2 and M1 Abrams – are far superior in mobility, firepower and protection capabilities than their Russian counterparts. The situation will be much different now for the invading Russian forces. Putin is still overestimating the situation. So far, his calculations have been proven wrong ever since he started his misadventure in Ukraine, and it appears that he is again miscalculating about the arrival of battle tanks.

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