War in Ukraine: Is the ‘armoured punching force’ enough to be a game changer in Ukraine’s defence?

They are the long-called-for weaponry described as an “armoured punching force”, which some believe will help Ukraine find its way out of stalemates on the battlefield – but which have rekindled Russian warnings of World War Three.

However, it has been warned the tanks pledged this week by Germany and the United States may not be enough for Ukraine to win the war in the foreseeable future.

The 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks will arrive later in the spring, but training for Ukrainian troops to use the Marder machinery, which is also to be delivered, will begin within days, Germany's defence minister, Boris Pistorius, said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The US also said it would send 31 of its Abrams tanks to Ukraine, while Berlin has granted approval for other European countries to send the German-made tanks from their own stocks. The ultimate plan is to provide Ukraine with a total of two battalions – 88 tanks – with donations from a number of countries.

Handout photos of the Polish Defence Ministry shows Leopard 2A4 tanks at the military rest range in Zagan, Poland in 2013.Handout photos of the Polish Defence Ministry shows Leopard 2A4 tanks at the military rest range in Zagan, Poland in 2013.
Handout photos of the Polish Defence Ministry shows Leopard 2A4 tanks at the military rest range in Zagan, Poland in 2013.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has welcomed the move, saying it could make a major difference to the Ukrainian military, which he said had shown great skill in operating battlefield machinery.

“If President [Vladimir] Putin wins, it is a tragedy for Ukraine, but it is dangerous for us,” he said. “It is in our security interest to support Ukrainians.”

The supply of the tanks has been regarded as a key move and a potential way out of the crisis – not least because it has been a long time coming. Germany has until this week refused to bow to pressure from other Western countries – and Ukraine itself.

Germany’s reluctance to supply the tanks comes partly from its role in the horrors of the Second World War, which it takes very seriously. Russia has responded to the announcement with fury, saying it is evidence of the growing "direct involvement" of Western countries in the conflict.

"German-made tanks will face off against Russian tanks in Ukraine once more," said Ekkehard Brose, head of the German military's Federal Academy for Security Policy, noting this was "not an easy thought" for Germany.

"And yet it is the right decision," he said, adding the US’s role in the decision was important, when looking at the prospect of Europe facing Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

Experts have described the tanks as a potential sea change in Ukraine’s battle against Russian occupation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Gian Gentile, a US Army veteran and senior historian with the Rand think-tank, said they were an “armoured punching force”, which could hit a moving target up to 2,000 metres away while rolling across rough terrain.

Pressure on Germany to deliver has also come from Ukraine itself, which has long pushed Western allies into providing increased support.

Indeed, the response from Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has been one of gratitude, but accompanied by requests for more equipment – not least for fighter jets, moving the goalposts once more to warn even this response would not be enough.

Ukraine's defence minister Yuriy Sak has warned 300 to 400 tanks would be needed to be a “game changer” – a far cry from the 45 provided.

"The sooner we defeat Russia on the battlefield using Western weapons, the sooner we will be able to stop this missile terror and restore peace," he said.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.