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Nato’s taboo of not sending tanks to Ukraine is slowly being broken

The West’s military aid to Ukraine is getting heavier and heavier.

By Ido Vock

Another taboo in the Ukraine war has been broken. After the French president Emmanuel Macron announced on 4 January that France would send AMX-10 RC armoured fighting vehicles to Ukraine, the US and Germany quickly followed up with their own announcement. On 5 January, the US president Joe Biden and the German chancellor Olaf Scholz revealed they would send M2 Bradley and Marder infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), respectively.

The vehicles aren’t tanks, exactly. The French AMX-10s have lighter weaponry and armour than battle tanks. Described by some as light tanks, they are more mobile than their heavier cousins, designed for reconnaissance rather than firefights. The American and German IFVs, meanwhile, are designed to carry troops and provide direct-fire support to infantry.

The decision to deliver the armoured vehicles seems to have been planned for months. But reporting over the weekend indicates that it was Macron’s unilateral announcement that finally bounced Germany into taking a similar step, allowing the Scholz government to stick to a commitment not to be the first to send a new category of offensive weapons to Kyiv. (Jeremy has written numerous pieces on the political and cultural ideas underpinning Germany’s “ambiguous response” to the war, such as here and here.)

The decisions to deliver heavier vehicles to Ukraine represent a shift in the West’s support to Kyiv, which has been asking for such weapons for months – until now, unsuccessfully. Vehicles delivered to Ukraine since the beginning of the war have mostly been artillery and light armoured vehicles. Deliveries of heavier vehicles had long been rejected, particularly by Germany, as an escalatory step. Now that that taboo has been broken, it may be only a matter of time until the next one is too: the delivery of battle tanks.

Ukraine has made many requests for Western battle tanks, particularly the German Leopard 2. But even though countries such as Poland and Finland have indicated their willingness to transfer some of their Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Berlin – which holds the export licence for the vehicles – remains reluctant to approve their delivery to Kyiv.

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The Leopard 2 is considered one of the world’s most advanced tanks. If sent to Ukraine, it would provide Kyiv’s forces with a further technological edge over the Russian army. Leopard 2s “easily outmatch Russian tanks” such as the Soviet-era T-72, which both sides are largely reliant on, wrote David Axe in Forbes last week. Ukraine has also been asking for American Abrams tanks. The dual announcements from France and Germany/US set a precedent that makes it a little more likely Ukraine will eventually receive Western tanks, as both it and Russia gear up for further offensives in the spring.

This article first appeared in the World Review newsletter. It comes out every Monday; subscribe here.

[See also: Ukraine’s problematic nationalist heroes]

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