A multinational agreement to send U.S. and European tanks to Ukraine has crossed a watershed that Kyiv hopes will lead to an influx of “long-range missiles” and even fighter jets.
“We have to unlock the supply of long-range missiles to Ukraine; it is important for us to expand our cooperation in artillery. We have to achieve the supply of aircraft to Ukraine,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday. “And this is a dream. And this is a task. An important task for all of us.”
Those high-value weapons seem more attainable following President Joe Biden’s announcement that Ukrainian forces will acquire nearly three dozen U.S.-made Abrams tanks, a gesture that spurred German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to grant Ukraine access to the fleets of German-made Leopard tanks in militaries across Europe. Those tank transfers left Zelensky flush with a diplomatic victory.
“I am grateful to all our allies for their willingness to provide us with modern and much-needed tanks,” he said. “All this proves the most important fact for the world today — the fact that freedom is only getting stronger.”
An expected Russian offensive this spring intensified the urgency of upgrading the heavy armor available to Ukrainian forces. The U.S. tanks will take “months as opposed to weeks” to reach Ukrainian troops, according to a senior administration official, but Biden’s success in convincing Scholz to sets the stage for a much more rapid influx of modern Leopard tanks, which are more readily available and have a simpler training and logistics process.
“The key thing now is speed and volume — the speed of training of our military, the speed of supplying tanks to Ukraine, the volume of tank support,” Zelensky said. “We must form a tank fist, a fist of freedom whose hits will not let tyranny stand up again.”
Ukrainian forces reportedly are slated to receive about 80 tanks, which could prove valuable as the Russians prepare to launch an offensive this spring.
“They will try to make a breakthrough somewhere, and to counter this breakthrough, you have to be mobile, you have to be active, you have to be protected, and that only works when you have your own armored fighting vehicles and tanks,” a senior German military official said last week. “If you are in trenches and they manage to make a breakthrough at some point, how can you stop them? … You can’t run with [Ukrainian] infantry behind [Russian] armor.”
Zelensky’s appeal for similar artillery upgrades points to an even more consequential option. “As soon as Ukraine receives long-range missiles, Russian supply depots are toast,” former Ambassador John Herbst, who led the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv from 2003-2006, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “Russia will have to set up new ones further from the front. If the Russians don’t have equipment, they are not going to send troops into battle.”