Ukraine is in a celebratory mood after finally convincing Western leaders to part ways with dozens of sophisticated tanks they say will deal a heavy blow to Vladimir Putin’s invasion and help win the war.
But their dreams will soon come into contact with reality as the months-long wait begins for military vehicles to be purchased, refurbished and delivered, alongside an intensive training program.
The process could even leave Ukraine stranded without high-tech weaponry until Moscow orders its long-awaited three-pronged spring offensive, which could prove a pivotal moment in the conflict.
The United States does not even have a ready stock of M1 Abrams tanks to deliver and will have to procure part of its fleet, while German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has said that their Leopard 2 tanks will not be ready before the end of March or the beginning of April.
A Leopard 2 main battle tank launches fog grenades during exercises in Germany. A fleet of tanks will soon be sent to Ukraine
By then, Russia should have launched a major assault, ordering forces south of Belarus, north of Crimea and east of Donbass to surround and strangle Kyiv forces.
Putin has already issued a furious response to the deal today by firing dozens of missiles at Ukraine which was forced to issue a nationwide air raid alert.
The reprisals signal that the war will escalate following the NATO decision and that the Kremlin will not wait for the tanks to arrive.
The tanks already won’t have their maximum impact arriving in the spring at the earliest, meaning Western dithering may have cost Ukraine a decisive blow on Moscow.
George Barros, of the Institute for the Study of War, told Newsweek: “The Ukrainians were signaling their intention to conduct offensive operations through the winter, but the lack of Western security assistance has degraded their ability to do it.”
It was a similar story with the HIMARS weapons system, which came after a series of Russian offensives and delayed the liberation of Kherson.
Mr Barros added: “It is the reluctance of some Western capitals to immediately supply the necessary systems, not the supply of the weapons themselves, which acts to prolong this war.”
The fact that German Leopard 2, American M1 Abrams and British Challenger 2 tanks each require different training, different maintenance and will arrive sporadically over the next few months will only complicate matters further.
British armored vehicles prepare to move to Estonia after being pledged to Kyiv forces
A US Army M1 Abrams tank fires during NATO exercises in Latvia
Initially, it is likely that Ukraine will focus on filling its stockpiles with a fleet of Leopard or Leopard 2 tanks just to avoid the difficulty of using multiple vehicles together that are not designed to do so.
Training of Ukrainian troops on German Marder infantry fighting vehicles will begin in the coming days, Pistorius said today, “and for Ukrainian soldiers who will be trained on the Leopard, it will be a bit later.”
This will force the Kyiv Army to completely rethink its current strategy and quickly adapt to new technology, having relied on Soviet-era T-72 tanks throughout the war.
They will also have to expand its maintenance and production facilities to accommodate the new, most advanced vehicles in the world.
Brad Martin, director of the RAND Institute for Supply Chain Security, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Unfortunately this means that each of these capabilities will need their own supply chains as they are different, their parts are different, the maintenance requirements are different.
“I don’t know if it’s such a big challenge that it can’t be met, but all things being equal it would be better to have common systems, but they work with what they have. “
“The United States has a number of Abrams tanks and some of them should be refurbished for export… it is certainly true that they are not ready to go, it will take work to get everything ready them ready to be deployed.
“A lot of this is rather complicated and sophisticated and it takes time to learn how to deal with it, training is going to be a really big deal.”
“Supply chains and acquiring spare parts take time, and those two things together will be a challenge.”
In Washington, senior officials had privately expressed dismay at Germany’s attempts to tie Abrams tanks to the delivery of Leopards.
A senior administration official told reporters that bosses do not believe Abrams tanks are a net benefit to Ukraine because they are difficult to operate and maintain.
Ukrainian soldiers are seen aboard a Soviet-era T-72 tank, widely used in the ongoing conflict, in the Donetsk region on January 20
But Germany did not want to go it alone, the official said, prompting Americans to wonder if there was a deeper reason in Berlin tied to the symbolism of German tanks rolling into Eastern Europe for a country still marked by the beginning of the Second World War.
At the same time, US officials were trying to meet Ukrainian demand for tanks while impressing on Ukrainians that there were limits to long-term assistance.
Ukraine’s military tactics will also have to adapt to its new toys.
Tanks must get close enough to punch holes in enemy lines, which means infantry must keep within range of Russian positions.
Engineers will be needed to help tanks cross rivers and artillery will need to cover the flanks to defend against a possible counterattack, in conjunction with air defense protecting vehicles from above.
Tanks will also have to be transported forward by low-bed trailers, which will also require their own protection.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius is seen a day after finally agreeing to supply tanks to Ukraine
On top of that, it remains to be seen if the supply is even big enough to do what Ukraine needs.
So far, Western countries have given “no clear indication” of how many tanks will be donated, an adviser to the country’s defense minister said.
Yuriy Sak told BBC Radio 4 Today: “We need 300-400 tanks for this to be a game changer.
“This tank coalition made up of different countries, we have no clear indication of how many tanks each country will provide. We have communicated to our partners that this is the number we need.
“If you want the missile terror to stop, you must receive the weapons that will allow us to defeat the enemy on the battlefield.
“The sooner we defeat Russia on the battlefield using Western weapons, the sooner we will be able to stop this missile terror and restore peace.”
So far, the number of tanks on offer is in the tens rather than the hundreds, although deliveries may continue.
Ukrainian officials are now appealing for long-range missiles and planes, but the wait is likely to be as long as their previous requests for military assistance.
Presidential adviser Mikhailo Podolyak told the Daily Telegraph: “At this moment we are witnessing a sea change of sentiment among the political elites of European countries… we will, I am sure, without a doubt, reach an agreement on the long-range missiles.
Mr. Zelensky said: “Overall, I am grateful to the world for supporting Ukraine. But if we speak frankly and honestly with you, the number of tanks and the delivery time are of crucial importance. and critical, in relation to the decision that was taken.
“We have approved crates of weapons to be sent to us, but have yet to receive them.
“Sometimes the delivery of weapons takes months, you understand?