EAH PHASE war brings its iconic weapon to Ukraine. Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles played the main roles around Kiev last winter. When the fighting moved to eastern Donbas in the spring, it was a 155-mm howitzer. When Ukraine advanced in autumn, it received praise gimar rocket launcher. Now, as both sides prepare for a new offensive, the focus has been on the Leopard tank.
Russia still occupies about 17% of Ukraine — including Crimea, a peninsula it annexed in 2014 and which raises some of the most difficult questions about the future of the war. Now the war has turned into a static but bloody exhaustion. In the air, Russian missiles and drones are trying to paralyze Ukraine’s power grid. On the ground, artillery barrages and human wave attacks allowed Russian troops to advance Bakhmut.
The spring fighting season can be decisive. Ukraine’s manpower advantage on the battlefield is waning now that the Kremlin has mobilized 200,000-300,000 troops and may soon call up more. With Russian weapons factories operating in three shifts, Ukraine cannot match it in raw firepower, given the depletion of weapons stockpiles in the West. Ukraine needs a game-changing strategy. So America and its allies moved from providing weapons piecemeal to training and equipping entire armored units for maneuver warfare. The goal is to help Ukraine not only repel another push from Russia, but also to return lost lands.
In large military aid packages this month, the Allies initially promised hundreds infantry fighting vehicles and other armored vehicles – American Bradleys and Strykers, German Marders, French AMX-10RCand Swedish summaryThe 90s. However, in order to create truly armored units, Ukraine also needs a lot of Western ones tanks.
They turned out to be unusually divisive. Ukraine needs German-made Leopard tanks the most. Unlike the British “Challengers”, there are many of them (about 2,000 “Leopards” are in service with Western armies). And unlike the American one M1 Abrams, they are relatively easy to supply and maintain: they are powered by diesel engines rather than gas turbines. But to the growing anger of allies at home and abroad, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, held out against providing Leopards or allowing other countries to supply theirs.
This obstacle was overcome on January 25, when America and Germany announced that they would send 31 M1 Abrams tank and 14 Leopard 2 tanks respectively. Britain sends 14 Challengers and Poland the same number of Leopards. Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain may also send Leopards.
Mr. Scholtz was doing what tankers call a “swivel rudder” — that is, turning in one place to change direction. “Germany will always be at the forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine,” he said. However, he moved only under the fire of the Americans. Resisting sending the Abrams, President Joe Biden relented because, as one official put it, he was “extremely focused on the importance of transatlantic unity.” Although strengthened, Ukraine now has the added headache of managing a bewildering array of weapons. No less important than recruiting is the training that America provides to improve Ukraine’s joint military operations. This involves coordinating armored vehicles, infantry, engineers and drones in a mutually reinforcing manner.
One of the frustrations, says Ben Hodges, a retired general who previously commanded the U.S. Army in Europe, is the lack of longer-range precision weapons. The GPS– guided missiles launched from GUIMARS can strike at a distance of up to 84 km. Russia moved its main command posts and logistics centers to stay out of range. America refuses to deliver 300 km ATACMS missiles, fearing that it could escalate the war.
The Pentagon admits that Ukraine needs help to conduct a “deep struggle”. But it also contains the armed Gray Eagle drone, not to mention military aircraft. Some hoped for a new deployment GUIMARSrocket known as a GLSDB with a smaller payload but a longer range of 150 km, but this has yet to be announced.
More and better armor, as well as means for deeper strikes, would allow Ukraine to target the “crucial territory” of Crimea, says General Hodges. Ukraine can use an armored personnel carrier to destroy the land bridge between Russia proper and the peninsula. Meanwhile, with the help of long-range munitions, it can destroy the actual bridge to Crimea across the Kerch Strait, which was damaged by an explosion in October 2022. Ukraine could then strike Crimea, making Russia’s position unbearable, he claims.
Pushing Crimea out would be a devastating military and political blow to Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, so some allies fear it could push Putin to use nuclear weapons. America claims that “Crimea is Ukraine.” Whether this will support the return of the peninsula in practice is another matter. Still, she may see an advantage in the fact that Ukraine can at least threaten Russia’s hold on Crimea to force it to the negotiating table.
Talks about the reconquest of Crimea are premature, says Michael Kofman CNA, an American think tank. Since their retreat from Kharkiv and Kherson last year the Russians defended a shorter front line with more soldiers and reserves. And both sides lack air superiority, a big part of the West’s all-out war. “If the next Ukrainian offensive fails, it carries the risk of a Russian counteroffensive and, in the worst case, losing territory, not gaining it,” he notes.
The foreboding is palpable. “This year it will be very, very difficult to knock Russian troops out of every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” warned General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, referring to “a very bloody war.”
Meanwhile, anti-aircraft defenses appeared on rooftops in Moscow. Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, issued a grim warning: “The defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war could trigger a nuclear war.” There was nothing new about his nuclear bomb; but the recognition that Russia could be defeated was new and striking. ■
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