Battle tanks for the spring offensive

Delivery of Leopard 2s to Ukraine remains uncertain. The battle tanks are needed for a spring offensive that could include attacks on Crimea.

RAMSTEIN/BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) – In the immediate run-up to the conference of arms suppliers held at the US Ramstein Air Base, the German government has remained silent on the possible delivery of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. Pressure to supply the battle tanks had again mounted yesterday. The U.S. has declined to provide M1 Abrams tanks, while demanding that Germany hand over Leopard 2s to Ukraine. According to US media reports, large numbers of battle tanks are needed for a Ukrainian spring offensive, currently being planned by Ukrainian and US military officials. The required arms supply should be decided in Ramstein. Washington is only willing to authorize more sustained shelling of Crimea, the report notes. Warnings that this could cross Russia's red lines, escalate the war and even trigger a nuclear attack are being dismissed. In the past, the West has repeatedly crossed Russia's red lines – with dramatic consequences. As the situation now stands, a possible nuclear attack would strike Europe, but not the USA.

The Leopard 2 Debate

Ahead of today's arms-suppliers conference at the US Ramstein Air Base (Rhineland-Palatinate), the official decision on whether Ukraine will be furnished Leopard 2 battle tanks is still unknown. Recently, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz indicated that he does not exclude it but would give his approval only if the United States does likewise. On Wednesday, the Pentagon, however, announced that Washington will not deliver M1 Abrams battle tanks, because they need complex maintenance and too much fuel. This justification is merely a pretext, according to military experts.[1] It was also confirmed yesterday that the Biden administration is exerting pressure on Berlin to provide the Leopard 2 battle tanks. The German arms industry, in turn, has declared that more than 100 battle tanks of various models (Leopard 1 and 2, Challenger 1) could be made operational in a relatively short time.[2] Pressure on the German government was again increased both domestically as well as from abroad. Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared the – legally required – German approval for deliveries of Polish Leopard tanks to Ukraine is “secondary.”[3] Yesterday, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius met with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin, but did not communicate the results.

The Ukrainian Spring Offensive

According to a New York Times report, the current delivery of combat tanks aims at enabling Ukrainian armed forces to launch a spring offensive. The haste with which the offensive is currently being prepared, is obviously due to the fact that Kiev does not expect that it can withstand Russian attacks for years and that it, therefore, seeks a turning point on the battle field.[4] As the New York Times notes, high ranking military officials from Ukraine and the United States met in Germany this week to prepare details of the offensive and to make a list of the required weaponry. At their meeting in Ramstein today, the defense ministers are expected to clarify the timely weapons supply. The discussion will focus on an offensive that would initially recapture the Zaporizhia region – including, if possible, the city of Melitopol. This would massively complicate Russian logistical supplies to Crimea. According to US military circles, from Kherson, which was recaptured in the fall, Ukraine could also launch attacks on the logistical lines leading from Crimea to Ukrainian regions, which had been conquered by Russia. Moreover, in the course of the offensive, Crimea itself could be easily attacked.

Attacks on Crimea

According to the New York Times, in Washington, it has not yet been conclusively determined just how extensive attacks on Crimea can be. The Biden administration is apparently willing to give the go-ahead for larger-scaled attacks than those previously. Moscow’s reaction to previous Ukrainian strikes in Crimea, including against Russian air bases, command posts and ships, has been “tempered,” it was noted. This has significantly dimmed fears that the Kremlin would retaliate using a tactical nuclear weapon.[5] US military officials are therefore proposing that the opportunity be seized for submitting Crimea to heavier shelling. This could deprive the Russian side of staging areas. However, President Joe Biden is not yet ready to give Ukraine the long-range weapons – for example missile systems – that would be needed to heavily attack Russian installations on the Crimean Peninsula. The US administration does not think that Ukraine can take Crimea militarily, and worries that such a move could drive Moscow to retaliate with an dramatic escalatory response been dispelled.

Testing Red Lines

This continuous testing to see how far one can go without definitively crossing Russia’s red lines, is nothing new. The West and its allies have done it several times – and have several times provoked a serious Russian reaction in doing so. Georgia’s violation of the ceasefire by attacking South Ossetia in August 2008 was a comparably early example. Russia, the guarantee power for the maintenance of the ceasefire agreement, responded at the time by militarily repelling the Georgian troops.[6] A second example came with the Maidan-Putsch in February 2014, which, with the West’s wholehearted support, ultimately brought Ukraine into an EU and NATO orbit. Moscow’s reaction caught the West completely by surprise: Russia supported Crimea’s secession, in March 2014, and accepted the peninsula into the Russian Federation. It is uncertain whether the war in Ukraine could have been averted, had NATO refrained from incorporating that country – but it is conceivable. The West, however, preferred testing Russia’s openly declared red lines. Ukraine is now paying the price for this decision with countless deaths, immense damage and immeasurable suffering.

Va Banque

The current testing of Russia’s red lines is no longer about the national affiliation of a strategically indispensable peninsula, nor is it about a conventional war waged between two countries, but rather about the question, whether Moscow will revert to using so-called tactical nuclear weapons. With explicit reference to the very real danger of a nuclear war, the prominent US foreign policy expert Henry Kissinger – a pronounced adversary of Russian policy – has made a plea for halting Western escalation and instead begin talks on a ceasefire.[7] In Washington Kissinger’s warning is ignored. The US administration can afford it. A possible Russian nuclear attack during the Ukraine War would devastate Europe, but not the USA – very similar to how the West’s economic war against Russia and its sanctions on Russian energy are already affecting primarily countries in Europe, but hardly the United States. This explains why Washington is ramping up escalation more enthusiastically than Berlin. The German government, on the other hand, is making efforts to reduce the risks in a united transatlantic approach. In doing so, however, it also is playing va banque on an existential issue.


For more on this theme: Schlüsselfaktor im Offensivkrieg.


[1] Lorenz Hemicker, Majid Sattar, Konrad Schuller, Matthias Wyssuwa: Nur im Gleichschritt. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 20.01.2023.

[2] Annett Meiritz, Martin Murphy, Frank Specht, Gregor Waschinski: Deutsche Industrie bietet mehr als 100 Kampfpanzer für Ukraine an. 19.01.2023.

[3] Polen deutet „Leopard”-Lieferung an. 19.01.2023.

[4], [5] Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt, Julian E. Barnes: U.S. Warms to Helping Ukraine Target Crimea. 18.01.2023.

[6] Das damalige Geschehen wird heute gern als angeblicher russischer Überfall auf Georgien dargestellt. Zu den Ereignissen liegt ein umfangreicher Untersuchungsbericht der EU aus dem Jahr 2009 vor, der detailliert belegt, dass Georgien der Aggressor war.

[7] Henry Kissinger: How to avoid another world war.