On Wednesday, 55 Ukrainian soldiers will fly to Poland after completing a four-week training course in Spain on how to operate Leopard 2 tanks.
From there they will make their way back to Ukraine and the front lines where they will play a crucial role in the upcoming counteroffensive against Russia’s forces in the east of the country.
What have they been doing in Spain?
The trainees have been based at the San Gregorio military training center in the northeastern city of Zaragoza.
According to Spanish Captain Contreras, who declined to give his first name, they have been training 12 hours a day, six days a week, AFP reports.
On Saturdays, they trained only in the mornings, said the officer, who headed the Spanish military unit charged with training the Ukrainian soldiers.
“They are very motivated,” he added. “They have a strong desire to learn and are eager to return and contribute to the defense of their country.”
The soldiers ranged in age from 21 to 60 years old and all had previous battle tank experience, he said.
“While battle tanks are different, there are many systems that are similar, and that made things much easier,” Captain Contreras commented.
The group received technical and tactical training and will return to Ukraine “with a very acceptable knowledge” of the German-made Leopard 2A4 tanks, he added.
Part of the European Union’s military assistance to Ukraine, the training included both exercises on simulators and actual Leopard 2 tanks. Captain Contreras said his team gave the group as little theoretical training as possible, “because they prefer practical training, as you can understand.”
What about the actual tanks?
Prime minister Pedro Sanchez said during a visit to Kyiv in February that Spain would be sending six Leopard 2A4 tanks immediately and hoped to send four more later.
Germany initially resisted the pressure from allies to authorize the move, but early this year agreed to send its own Leopards and greenlighted the deliveries from other countries.
The exact location of all the pledged tanks has not been divulged for obvious reasons, but some are already in Ukraine.
Poland last week said it had delivered to Ukraine the additional 10 Leopard 2A4 tanks it had promised, while allies would send theirs shortly.
“We’re talking about a battalion of heavy tanks which, in the case of Poland’s share, have already been delivered, and, in the case of our allies, will be delivered to Ukraine very soon,” Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told reporters.
Warsaw had promised to ship a total of 14 German-made Leopard 2 heavy tanks to Kyiv. The first four were delivered in late February, on the first anniversary of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.
Blaszczak said the tanks to follow from allied countries include eight from Canada, eight from Norway and at least six from Spain.
He also said Poland would set up a service hub for the battle tanks used in Ukraine. “We are proceeding with a hub that will be responsible for servicing and fixing the tanks that have been delivered to Ukraine or will be soon,” he said.
What do the Ukrainians think of their new vehicles?
The Ukrainian soldiers praised the “superior capacities” of the tanks from the ones they had used before and those they faced from the Russian side, Captain Contreras said.
When exactly will they be used?
Again, that’s not open knowledge for obvious reasons but last week Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to the head of the presidential office, said a Ukrainian counteroffensive will begin in around two months.
“We are not in a hurry, we will reorganize over the next two months. We will exhaust the Russians in Bakhmut and then focus elsewhere,” Podolyak said in an interview published on March 10 by the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
Russia had concentrated most of its trained military personnel in Bakhmut, along with the most combat-ready private military companies, he added.
As such, Ukraine is pursuing two main goals in its defense of Bakhmut: to gain time to replenish its forces, and to inflict heavy losses on the Russian army.
He added that the decision to make the defense of a key area a priority task was a joint strategy developed by the country’s military leaders with the approval of the President of Ukraine.
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Comments ( 1)
Ukraine needs more advanced weapons and F16 fighters! At this point the NATO and the US should throw in more weaponry to the Ukrainians especially the 300km-500km range MGM-140 ATACMS rockets, counter rocket C-RAM weapons systems to better fight the Iranian drones and more for air defenses to counter the Iranian drones and ballistic missiles.