It’s been two weeks since the long-awaited news that Germany was green-lighting the delivery of Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine. With a looming offensive from Russia expected imminently, anticipation is fraught with impatience.
Where are they?
They’re still not in Ukraine but at least one is heading in that direction. Earlier this week the Canadian Defense Ministry released pictures of one of the vehicles being unloaded from a plane at an airfield in Poland.
According to the picture, yes. The reality of the situation is that the announcement two weeks ago was just the first step in a very long process.
The latest significant development was a more precise number of Leopards heading to Ukraine
The newly pledged deliveries came as part of a “new Leopard Initiative” agreed between Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, with the three countries stating at least 100 Leopard 1 A5 tanks from industrial stocks will be delivered in the “coming months.”
Berlin has also promised Kyiv 14 of the newer Leopard 2 tanks.
In total, Germany had given the green light for up to 178 Leopard 1 A5 tanks to be sent to Ukraine out of industry stocks, the economy and defence ministries said in a statement. The final number would "depend on the repair work required", the ministries said.
Months? Why so long?
Ukrainian troops have to be trained on how to use the tanks. Also, the necessary logistics and support networks have to be established so they can be maintained on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, these processes take time and it could be the end of March before they begin to arrive in significant numbers.
What about other countries pledging Leopards?
The tank initiative would “complement the efforts already underway to support Ukraine with Leopard 2 main battle tanks,” the three partners said, adding Belgium had also shown “initial interest” in joining.
However, concrete offers to provide the tanks from other countries have so far been few and far between. Poland has pledged 14 Leopard 2 A4 tanks and Canada will send four, with Norway, Finland, Spain and Portugal also indicating they will take part, but with no specific numbers yet.
Are they going to arrive on time?
They can’t come soon enough for Ukraine as it prepares to fight off a Russian counteroffensive that has already shown signs of having begun.
Moscow said Russian forces were advancing towards Bakhmut and Vuhledar – two key centers of fighting in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine, where the heaviest fighting is.
During a press conference on Tuesday and a surprise visit to Kyiv by German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, President Zelensky said: “The latest decisions regarding... the supply of Leopards are important decisions for us. We do not want to give the initiative to Russia.”
What’s actually happening on the battlefield?
The capture of Bakhmut would offer a gateway for Russian forces to continue their advance into Donetsk – a military priority for Moscow.
The battered town has seen months of fighting, making it the longest-running battle since Russia’s full-scale attack was launched nearly a year ago.
“Military operations are at the moment progressing with success in areas around Ugledar and Artemovsk [the Russian names for Vuhledar and Bakhmut respectively],” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said during a meeting with defense officials.
He also listed seven other settlements in Donetsk that Russian forces had recently “liberated,” including the salt-mining town of Soledar, which came under Russian control in January.
Near Yampil, north of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, Ukrainian serviceman Serhiy Solomon told AFP he was concerned about their stockpiles of arms and rumors of a looming Russian offensive.
“The Russians have tanks, armored personnel carriers and Grads (rockets), everything you can think of,” the 31-year-old former builder said. “We have equipment but not a lot of munitions,” he added.
Asked whether Ukrainian forces were preparing to withdraw from Bakhmut, Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told local media Tuesday that “no scenario was being ruled out. All maximum measures are being taken to prevent this from happening. For now, Bakhmut is holding on.”
Zelensky last week urged Western countries to speed up deliveries of weapons – particularly long-range missiles – so his forces can fend off Russian advances in “fortress” Bakhmut.
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