New armored vehicles will help Ukraine lead the fight against Russia
BRUSSELS — They will soon be covered in mud, riddled with shrapnel and under fire from the Ukrainian battlefields. But the three new types of armored vehicles offered to Ukraine this week signal that Western allies are preparing for another bloody year as the war enters a new phase of Ukrainian offensives against dug-in Russian forces.
Unsurprisingly, the Ukrainian government is ecstatic: “The time for the taboo on weapons is over,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a Facebook post, welcoming the new lethal equipment.
Russia is furious: the new vehicles are “one more step towards an escalation of the Ukrainian conflict”, lamented the embassy in Berlin in a press release.
And the frontline troops are cynical, often complaining that even if the allies won’t let them lose, they won’t let them win either.
But the new weapons appear to mark a shift in policy in Washington, Paris and Berlin, providing more lethal support for Ukrainian infantry, indicating less anxiety about Russian escalation and aiming for more decisive Ukrainian victories in 2023.
The trilateral decision “clarifies Western support for Ukraine for a potential offensive in the coming months,” German foreign policy analyst Ulrich Speck said. “And that signals to Moscow that we are not on the trajectory of peace negotiations anytime soon.”
The decision also reflects “a change in temperature” in major Western capitals and a “reduction in the fear factor, a sense that a diminished Russia is less able or less willing to get worse,” Speck said.
French AMX-10s, German Marders and American M2 Bradley fighting vehicles will go to war on the heels of two successful Ukrainian offensives that pushed Russian forces from the northeast and south of the country.
The new vehicles, known as infantry or armored fighting vehicles, are almost certainly destined to spearhead any future attempts to push the Russians out of Ukraine.
The state of war
- Ceasefire: On January 5, the Kremlin announced a 36-hour ceasefire in Ukraine to mark Eastern Orthodox Christmas. Amid continued attacks, Ukrainian leaders dismissed the idea as a cynical posturing of an untrustworthy enemy.
- Sex crimes: After months of bureaucratic and political delays, Ukrainian officials are ramping up documentation of sex crimes committed by Russian forces during the war.
- A new resource: The Pentagon will supply Kyiv with Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which offer greater protection and firepower than any truck or armored personnel carrier the West has sent so far.
- Targeting Mobile phones: Ukraine is able to target Russian soldiers by tracking signals from their cell phones. Despite the deadly results, troops in Moscow continue to defy a ban on the use of phones.
“The Ukrainians plan to conduct more offensive operations against dug-in Russian positions, so it’s important to get better infantry fighting vehicles to get closer to defensive positions,” said Rob Lee, military analyst at Foreign Policy. Research Institute.
The new equipment will arrive just in time. After more than 10 months of bloody fighting, Ukrainian Soviet-era vehicles that reflect the capabilities of the AMX, M2 and Marder have been slowly destroyed and damaged, according to Ukrainian troops and a US official.
But if not sent in large numbers, the recent armored additions are likely to change little on the wider battlefield and add to Ukraine’s growing logistical burden as Ukrainian mechanics struggle with a diverse fleet of vehicles that have each with their own parts and ammunition requirements.
The trio of vehicles are not the first armored vehicles sent by the West to Ukraine, but they are arguably the most advanced, occupying a category of war machines that are not quite armored personnel carriers, although some can transport troops, and not quite tanks.
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The AMX-10 has a 105 millimeter gun. The M2 Bradley can be equipped with a 25 millimeter cannon and an anti-tank guided missile. The Marder is usually equipped with a 20 millimeter cannon. The three different vehicles use different types of ammunition, which is more of a logistical headache for the Ukrainian troops using them. The French rolls with big tires; the others on steps.
But both the Bradley and the Marder can carry troops, making them essential for any type of future Ukrainian offensive operations against Russian defenses along a front line that stretches over 600 miles and has, in recent weeks, mostly stabilized after being reinforced by newly mobilized troops. .
Ukraine regularly lobbies its Western allies for more sophisticated infantry equipment, including armored infantry fighting vehicles and high-end Western tanks, such as the American Abrams and the German Leopard II.
But Washington, Paris and Berlin have been cautious, trying to provide the weapons Ukraine really needs and is able to maintain, while keeping a close eye on the depth of their own sometimes meager stockpiles.
US officials argued that Ukraine had enough good tanks in its Soviet-era T-72s, although it lacked ammunition for them. The Americans and Germans argue that training Ukrainians to operate modern Leopard or Abrams tanks – and keeping them in the field – would take several months. The supply chain needed for a fuel-hungry tank like the Abrams is also extensive, added a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss tactical matters.
Currently, Ukrainian forces use their Soviet-era tanks in a support role, protecting them behind lines and using their big main guns as artillery. They often rely on armored personnel carriers to quickly move troops during offensive maneuvers.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced a new $3 billion military assistance package for Ukraine, including Bradley combat vehicles, which officials said would be particularly useful to Ukrainian units fighting Russian forces in the Donbass region, in the east of the country. The administration said it would send 50 Bradleys. Germany announced that it would provide 40 Marders.
The German coalition government led by a Social Democrat chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has been particularly careful to draw a line between defensive weapons, like the Gepard mobile anti-aircraft vehicles, which have tank tracks, and weapons that can be used for offensive infantry combat, like the Marder and the Leopard. Berlin maintained that it would not be the first NATO ally to supply such weapons to Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron has taken a similar stance, albeit more quietly. But on Wednesday, after discussions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr Macron suddenly announced that France would supply Ukraine with its AMX-10 – a wheeled, not tracked, infantry fighting vehicle in service. since the 1980s and being phased out in the French army.
A NATO diplomat said on Friday that France, Germany and the United States had discussed providing Ukraine with such vehicles, including the American Bradley and the German Marder, but that Mr Macron is went ahead on his own and announced France’s decision.
On Thursday, after a conversation between President Biden and Mr. Scholz said the Germans, the Americans and the Germans consulted and announced their own decision to provide Bradleys and Marders, satisfying the German condition that Berlin not be the first to supply a new category of Western Armaments to Ukraine.
Germany also announced that it would supply a battery of Patriot missiles to Ukraine in addition to the one it supplied to Poland — and which it had initially refused to donate directly to Ukraine. This taboo, too, is now broken.
“This is another step forward for Germany, which has taken one step at a time since February 24,” said Ulrike Franke, German defense expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Ukraine has been asking for the weapons since April, she said, but for Germany “it was a self-imposed taboo”. In Berlin, “we continue to have these somewhat absurd debates – offensive vs defensive, light vs heavy, modern vs old – and a few months later we change our lines again,” she said. It’s an important development, “mainly in the German imagination,” she says.
But it also paints a bad picture of the Franco-German relationship, she said, sounding like either Berlin needs a boost from Paris or the two countries can’t work well together, Ms. Macron anticipating things on his own.
Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from New York. Eric Schmitt, John Ismay, Lara Jakes, Natalia Yermak, Cassandra Vinograd and Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.
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