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With tank pledge for Ukraine, Biden bolsters allied engagement

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Credit…Ints Kalnins/Reuters

The process of delivering Western weapons and other military equipment to Ukraine has been one of the war’s best-kept secrets. Concerns that Russia will target roads, railroads or staging areas for material as it is shipped to front lines in eastern and southern Ukraine have demanded what officials and experts have described them as stealthy convoys, usually cloaked in darkness or disguised, to evade attack.

Now that Germany and Britain have announced they will send advanced battle tanks to Ukraine, and the Biden administration expected to do the same, bringing the heavy armored vehicles and other combat trucks to the battlefield looms as a challenge for Kyiv.

Russia is not known to have successfully hit a large convoy of Western weapons being shipped to Ukraine, and experts have described the process of transporting the huge munitions and vehicles into the conflict zone as a game of cat and ball. mouse that Ukraine won.

“Nobody knows, in public, how it’s going,” said Heinrich Brauss, a former NATO deputy secretary general who is now on the German Council on Foreign Relations. “I’m not even sure that the capitals know in detail. But they get away with it. »

An M1 Abrams tank arrived at the port of Bremerhaven in Germany ahead of international military exercises in 2020.Credit…Patrik Stollarz/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The risks – and the worries of provoking Russia – are so great that Ukrainian troops must collect the weapons from depots on NATO territory instead of Western forces or contractors delivering them to the area of conflict.

Nikolai Sokov, an expert at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation and a former Russian diplomat, said a Russian attack on a weapons convoy “would not only delay future deliveries, but also take less a significant part”. of modern armor before they reach the front line.

A Pentagon spokesperson declined last week to discuss efforts to provide the more than $27 billion in weapons and security assistance the Biden administration has already committed to Ukraine, most since the start of the war last February. But former military officials and Western experts have described a patchwork of delivery routes, largely from hubs in Poland, Slovakia and Germany, that will be crucial for bringing in tanks, armored fighting vehicles and equipment. huge guns towards the front lines.

Most weapons will be shipped on wagons or flatbed trucks strong enough to support their enormous weight. Rail is generally the fastest and safest way to move armor, experts said, given that long convoys of flatbed trucks would likely attract Russian attention. It would take too much time, fuel and spare parts to drive tanks and other armored vehicles onto the battlefield, experts said. They would also, in essence, become a moving target for Russian warplanes.

General Robert B. Abrams, a former four-star US Army general who retired in 2021 with decades of experience with the tank that bears his father’s name, echoed the concerns of some leaders in the Pentagon who think it would be difficult for Ukrainian troops. to repair and maintain a fleet of energy-intensive tanks. And that’s after bringing them there.

“The time it would take to get there – to be able to stock up on supplies, deliver the vehicles, train the crews, train the mechanics, gather everything you would need – how long would that take?” General Abrams said in an interview. “I don’t know, but it’s not like 30 days, I can tell you.”

The impact the Abrams and its 120 millimeter gun would have on inferior Russian tanks was not in question, however, he said.

“It will shred them,” General Abrams said. “It’ll put a hole in anything.”

Jean Ismay contributed report.

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