Dr. Salem Al Ketbi
Dr. Salem Al KetbiCourtesy

In a major push for the West’s growing military support for Kiev and fading hopes for an early resolution of the crisis, Germany and the US have confirmed they will send tanks to Ukraine. Berlin has confirmed 14 Leopard 2 tanks, while Washington plans to send 31 Abrams tanks in the coming months.

In addition, Berlin has given the green light to a number of European countries to send German-made Leopard-2 tanks to Ukraine. This decision is in addition to the position of the UK, which has already confirmed the dispatch of 14 tanks to the Ukrainian side. According to military experts, the tanks could help Ukrainian forces to force Russian troops to withdraw from the territories they occupy.

However, the acquisition of Western tanks by Ukraine has a symbolic significance that outweighs their operational impact, because in the end it must be admitted that the announced number of tanks is not enough to achieve a thoroughgoing superiority in the balance of forces on the ground in favor of Ukrainian forces.

The symbolic framework of the German-American advance lies primarily in the fact that Ukraine will soon be fighting with Western-Atlantic weapons, having received weapons from Western countries since the outbreak of the war, most of which were manufactured in the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, rather than the weapons used by NATO, with the exception of logistical equipment such as troop carriers.

In this context, Ukraine has acquired more than two hundred T-72 tanks manufactured in Eastern European countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic. This symbolism refers not only to the limited number of tanks to be delivered to Ukraine, but also to the timing. The move was announced because it would take several months to deliver tanks, especially American ones.

Thus, it is more about the psychological aspect of the German-American decision than about the supposed operational effect of the participation of Western tanks in the fighting.

In this context, Western capitals remain adamant about not sending long-range weapons (over 59 km) to Ukraine to avoid using them against targets inside Russia, which would inevitably lead to an escalation of the military conflict on the Russian side. Kiev celebrated the announcement by Berlin and Washington to supply tanks.

She saw it as a turning point that would allow her army to regain momentum and liberate areas held by Russian forces since the war began a year ago; tanks could help counter a possible Russian offensive next spring.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, is an important step towards ensuring Ukraine’s victory against the Russians. “Today the free world is united as never before for a common goal — liberation of Ukraine,” he proclaimed, as if he were leading the “free world” against Russia.

An important question remains about the possible Russian reaction if Western tanks actually participate in combat operations in Ukraine. Russian officials have had mixed reactions. Some believe the plan is doomed to failure and are downplaying the support these tanks could provide to the Ukrainian army.

While the Russian ambassador to Washington called the delivery of tanks to Ukraine “a new blatant provocation,” Russian television opined that “the appearance of German tanks in Ukraine will cause us to consider German territory, military bases, and other places as legitimate targets.” But overall, Russia appears to be taking a more guarded view of the latest European move on tanks.

The US decision was more a sign of solidarity with its transatlantic allies than actual military support for Ukraine. It is not yet clear when the US tanks will be delivered, whether they are Army stockpiles or part of a new manufacturing process.

In related news, the Ukrainian president has requested about 300 German Leopard 2 tanks to help his country “defeat Russia,” which is a very far cry from what he will actually receive, no more than a hundred tanks delivered incrementally over months and losing much of their operational impact.

Ukraine has already acquired about 250 T-72 tanks, which are less effective than their Western counterparts. These tanks were in addition to the approximately 900 tanks Ukraine had before the war began. The Western tanks, in my view, are a message of deterrence designed to increase pressure on Russia to prevent a possible major military offensive in the spring.

These tanks can help repel this possible attack and embarrass the Russian leadership because these tanks represent a qualitative addition to the offensive capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces; their range is not limited, so the rear ranks of the Russian army can be fired upon with great precision. Germany has been reluctant to make a decision on the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks.

However, concerns about the consequences of a possible Russian attack have prompted the US and German sides to agree on the decision to supply tanks to Ukraine. The decision to supply Ukraine with German, American and British tanks is a crucial step in the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine.

Western weapons are directly facing their Russian counterparts, and the more complicated the crisis becomes, the more critical the position of the two sides, the West and Russia, who insist on continuing the dispute to the end.

This sums up the statement by the deputy chairman of Russia’s National Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, that Russia could use its nuclear weapons if it cannot achieve the goal of its war in Ukraine with conventional weapons or if it senses a possible defeat, which means that both sides have reached a point from which there is no immediate turning back, at least with the available evidence.

Dr. Salem AlKetbiis a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate