The news did come as a surprise to some experts in Germany: in mid-September, the Federal Ministry of Defense surprisingly announced that it would deliver 50 armored Dingo transport vehicles to the Ukraine. They are intended to offer Ukrainian soldiers protection against Russian fire on the front line. As soon as the news was known, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) declared: Germany is “quite far ahead” when it comes to arms deliveries to Ukraine. That’s what Scholz said to leaders of the Bundeswehr during a military conference in Berlin and apparently wants to take political pressure off. For months, Ukraine has primarily been demanding western tanks to fight the Russian attackers. After the recent military success and the liberation of the entire Kharkiv region in the northeast of the country, the war in Ukraine is entering a new phase.
Above all, to liberate the south of the country between the cities of Cherson and Mariupol, which was occupied by Kremlin troops. “In order to successfully carry out counterattacks, especially in this vast steppe, the equipment is not enough. That’s why Ukraine is on the road so looking for help in terms of armored personnel carriers and battle tanks,” says the analyst at the Munich Security Conference and Eastern Europe expert Nico Lange in an interview with the DW.
During his visit to Berlin at the beginning of September, the Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Schmyhal again asked for the Leopard battle tank. And the US ambassador in Berlin is apparently encouraging Germany to take this step. Pressure on Germany to supply more heavy weapons increases again.
Criticism from Western partners of Germany
In fact, it is now said in Berlin security circles that Germany lost a lot of its reputation with its Western allies again in mid-September. Then it became known that the inspector general of the German armed forces, Eberhard Zorn, downplayed Ukraine’s military success in the north-east of the country in an interview with Focus magazine. “I’m careful with the terms,” Zorn said, referring to the Ukrainian army’s offensive lauded by the US and Britain. He estimates that Kyiv can only defeat Russia with a “superiority of at least 3 to 1”. In the same interview, Zorn warned against Russian attacks against the Baltic States or against Finland.
Experts say Ukraine needs modern battle tanks to liberate the flat steppe landscape between the cities of Cherson and Mariupol.
That is an “amazingly poor analysis of Russia’s capabilities,” said Ben Hodges, the former commander-in-chief of the US Army in Europe. In fact, Finland alone would be able to defeat the Russian forces as they are. The neighboring countries of Lithuania and Poland could take the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which is surrounded by these two countries on the Baltic Sea, “in a week,” writes Hodges, who lives in Germany.
The vast majority of Western analysts agree with the US general. The Ministry of Defense in London writes in its regular Ukraine Bulletin: “Russia’s problems with mobilizing enough soldiers are getting worse.” The report refers to a video that is making the rounds on social media: It shows the owner of the private mercenary group Wagner, apparently recruiting prisoners for his group in the courtyard of a prison in exchange for pardon and cash. Shortly thereafter, a video was made public on social media, which is said to show prisoner transporters on their way to a training camp run by this private mercenary force on behalf of the Kremlin. Russia is severely weakened, that is to say.
The US think tank Institute of the Study of War (ISW) reports on further, smaller advances by the Ukrainians in its daily analysis. “Ukrainian forces were reportedly advancing across the Oskil River in the northern Kharkiv Oblast.” The ISW cites a Russian source as confirming that “Ukrainian forces established bases and artillery positions throughout Kharkiv Oblast, including artillery positions at Hryanykivka on the east bank of the Oskil River near the R79 trunk road.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi had previously announced that the entire Kharkiv administrative region would be secured first. However, the Russian troops are apparently also reacting to the new situation.
Russian army digs into Luhansk
The Ukrainian governor of the neighboring region of Luhansk, which is completely occupied by Russian troops, wrote on Twitter: “The Kharkiv scenario will not be repeated.” The Ukrainian army will “have to fight hard for our administrative region.” Russian forces would dig in and build new defensive positions at the towns of Svatove and Troitske. “Heavy fighting continues on many fronts.”
And so the war events along the front line determine Ukraine’s need for western main battle tanks. Within the German governing coalition, pressure is growing on the reserved governing party SPD, which is represented by Chancellor Olaf Scholz. In an interview with the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock from the Bündnis90/Die Grünen party said: “In the crucial phase that Ukraine is currently in, I don’t think this is a decision that has been delayed for a long time should be.” However, the delivery of “modern battle tanks” like the Leopard 2 could only be decided “together,” “in a coalition and internationally.” That sounds a lot like a proposal by the Berlin think tank European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) for a “Leopard 2 plan,” which is now making the rounds in the German capital.
Leopard 2 plan
According to this, a European association of countries that have the Leopard 2 main battle tank in their stocks should provide Ukraine with 90 combat-capable tanks. “After supporting the Ukrainian defensive struggle in the cities and increasing the artillery firepower, they should equip the Armed Forces of Ukraine for maneuver warfare,” write analysts Gustav Gressel, Rafael Loss and Jana Puglierin. “Heavy tanks will be crucial in this next phase of the war.”
A number of countries have the Leopard 2, here vehicles of the Polish armed forces during a NATO maneuver
The German government should unite a “consortium of European Leopard 2 users” to put together this association with 90 main battle tanks. In Europe, twelve countries have a total of 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks. For Nico Lange from the Munich Security Conference, “an alliance of several European nations that have Leopard 2 main battle tanks” could be a way to support Ukraine “on an equal footing” with the United States. Washington has delivered by far the most arms to Ukraine.