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Analysis: Why sending Ukrainian tanks represents a fierce new step by the West


Even in disarray, the message ends up being one of unity.

After weeks of Poland and other NATO members openly pressuring Germany to allow the shipment of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, it finally seems that the United States and some of its European Union allies will send armor – a move that was unthinkable months ago – to the front line. against Russia.

This is a crucial decision, in part because the latter – unlike air defense systems or anti-tank missiles – are not defensive weapons. Like the artillery and rocket systems that preceded them, they are intended to hit Russian troops hard in a ground offensive. But unlike those systems, they are unequivocally aimed at Ukraine regaining territory. It’s new and fierce, and it depicts a fearless NATO.

The joint decision by the United States and Europe to send tanks to Ukraine is not the show of fractured democracies that it might appear to be.

Throughout the weeks of wrangling and harassment over Berlin’s reluctance to help Kyiv, some in Moscow will have heard something different from disunity: a West considering sending its most aggressive armor to a state it considered himself unfit even to seriously discuss NATO membership with him a year ago.

An alliance of the size and diverse histories of NATO would always have disagreements over how to handle the biggest ground war in Europe since World War II.

Poland experienced Soviet rule, with many of its citizens able to remember what this version of Russian imperialism felt like. Germany – under the Nazis – unleashed its tanks for the last time in the continent’s worst episode of bloodshed to date. Many figures in his towering Social Democratic Party (SPD) – the seat of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz – have been dangerously close to the Kremlin. It would have been somewhat remarkable if these European powers had all been on the same page about this fight from day one.

But US plans to send 30 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, largely symbolic, according to two US officials familiar with the deliberations, have emboldened Germany enough to drop its objections to the Leopard. It provided a NATO umbrella for the move, even though it will take months, if not years, to bring the logistically complex US main battle tank into play.

Servicing and maintaining these tanks across the vast expanses of Ukraine will be a tall order. But Washington’s willingness to take on this task speaks volumes about its commitment to the war and its vision of Ukraine’s prospects for a broader victory.

This latest wave of Western aid says two things. First, these nations are not afraid to cross Russian “red lines”. The long-held belief is crumbling that some elements of NATO’s aid to Ukraine could risk provoking a nuclear power too far.

Second, these NATO members are less afraid of being attacked by Russia itself in the imminent future: they are handing over weapons that they would urgently need in the event of such a conflict. The Dutch decision to send all their Cesar artillery; the Norwegian decision to send a large part of their Leopards; both bear witness to this. These NATO members believe that the decisive conflict with Russia will take place in Ukraine, with Ukraine. And that might suggest they believe Moscow won’t win.

Western stocks can be replenished or replenished, but it takes time – decades perhaps. And NATO members are pledging equipment at such a pace that the latest announcement isn’t in play until the next.

Just a month ago, the United States promised Patriot missile defense systems to Ukraine, and they haven’t arrived yet. Now the M1 Abrams tank may be on the way. The practical effects may not be felt in time for a spring offensive by either side, Russia or Ukraine. But the message is palpable long before that. Western aid appears endless, constant and growing.

And this will be felt within the walls of the Kremlin. The Russian military strives to build a strategic plan around its ever-evolving leadership and convert the brutal use of manpower as an inexhaustible and enduring resource into substantial gains.

For those around Russian President Vladimir Putin, the colossus of NATO aid is inescapable and certainly weighs on the sustainability of their support for Putin. It’s not going to go away.

However, a caveat is in order. It is as precarious for the West to believe that Russia no longer has any red lines, as it is to give in to the nuclear blackmail that so impeded the Russian invasion.

Moscow may seem relatively helpless right now, but the fortunes of this war have already changed and could change again.

Perhaps the weeks of public debate over the aid escalation are meant to show Moscow that the West is cautious and respectful of what remains of the Kremlin’s ego.

But here we are in territory that was impossible to imagine a year ago, with NATO’s best attack technology soon in the hands of the Ukrainians, and Russia apparently only able to bark its frustration. .

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