WAR IN UKRAINEGerman and U.S. Tanks Will Be Critical in Ukraine’s Next Phase Against Russia

By Max Boot

Published 30 January 2023

The main battle tanks that the United States and Germany have agreed to provide Ukraine will help its forces punch through Russian fortifications and retake lost territory.

Western aid for Ukraine has steadily increased over the past year in both quality and quantity—from handheld weapons such as Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger antiaircraft missiles that were dispatched at the beginning of the war to much more sophisticated systems provided more recently, such as the HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) and the Patriot air defense system.

January 2023 marked two other milestones: the month began with Western allies finally agreeing to send advanced armored personnel carriers—the United States will contribute Bradleys and Strykers, Germany will send Marders, Sweden will send CV90s, and so on—and it ended with a breakthrough decision to send main battle tanks as well.

Britain led the way by pledging fourteen Challenger 2 tanks, but Germany refused to provide its Leopard 2 tanks until the United States agreed to send its own M1 Abrams tanks. Risk-averse German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wanted political cover from his American allies if he was going to take a step that could provoke an escalatory response from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and sending the vehicles would represent another break with Germany’s postwar quasi-pacifism.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who commanded armored units during the Iraq War, insisted that the M1 Abrams tanks would be too unwieldy for Ukraine—they require considerable maintenance and run on jet fuel. The Leopard 2, on the other hand, is slightly lighter and runs on more commonly available diesel fuel.

A standoff ensued that was finally broken this week when the Joe Biden administration agreed to send at least thirty Abrams tanks to Ukraine, though they will likely take months to arrive. This gave Scholz the opening he sought to lift his ban on providing the Leopard 2 tanks. Germany pledged to donate at least fourteen of its Leopards, while other nations such as Finland, Greece, Poland, and Spain are preparing to send their own Leopards.