Apr 21, 2022 - World

New tanks and artillery bolster Ukraine’s hopes of defeating Russia

Ukrainian troops stand on an armored personnel carrier not far from the front line in Kharkiv region. Photo: by Anatolii Stepnov/AFP via Getty

An inrush of howitzers, artillery shells and drones is heading to Ukraine in a new $800 million package announced Thursday by President Biden. The Pentagon says Ukraine now has more functional tanks on the ground than Russia due to shipments from countries including the Czech Republic.

The big picture: With a potentially decisive battle now underway in the eastern Donbas region, the urgency to get arms to the front lines is ramping up, and concerns about provoking Vladimir Putin are fading — at least in Washington.

  • Biden promised to continue sending arms “without interruption” and told Americans they should be proud that U.S. arms and intelligence were helping Ukraine "beat back Putin's savagery."

In contrast, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under pressure from Kyiv, EU allies and his own government for refusing to provide certain heavy weaponry, like tanks or other military vehicles.

  • Scholz defended his cautious approach this week in the Bundestag, saying Germany could not “go it alone” and had to consider its own defense needs and the risk of escalation beyond Ukraine’s borders.

There’s also a growing debate about what a realistic outcome in the Donbas might look like.

  • A European official briefed reporters Tuesday that the latest assessment is Russia will be able to take the remainder of Luhansk and “a bit” of Donetsk — the two provinces that comprise the Donbas region — as well as a very narrow land corridor to Crimea.
  • At that point, within four to six months, there will be a stalemate and the potential for more serious negotiations, the official predicted.
  • However, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament this week that he sees no path to a diplomatic solution with Putin, and thus “we must do everything we can to ensure he fails.”

Some experts argue that, with enough Western support, Ukraine could actually defeat Russia, which the Pentagon says has lost 25% of its combat power in eight weeks of war.

  • “If we continue this path, accelerating deliveries with broader European production and contribution, in a few weeks Russia will be losing unambiguously,” Eliot Cohen of The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies tweeted Thursday. “Time to double down and aim for Ukrainian victory.”
  • A European Council of Foreign Relations analysis contends that if NATO countries commit to a lend-lease program for Ukraine — paired with intensive training for Ukrainian troops on advanced systems like F-15 fighter jets — Ukraine could gain the upper hand.
  • If the war does drag on, Russia will be contending with dwindling stockpiles, and sanctions could impact future production of some weapons systems.
  • Yes, but: It's not entirely clear what a military victory for Ukraine would look like, as outright surrender from Putin appears unlikely.

Putin in a televised meeting on Thursday ordered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to cancel plans to raid the massive steel plant in Mariupol where Ukrainian troops and hundreds of civilians are holding out, and instead seal it off.

  • Putin effectively claimed control of the key port city, but he has rebuffed Ukrainian calls for a humanitarian corridor to allow the troops and civilians out.
  • Maj. Serhiy Volyna, commander of Ukraine's 36th Separate Marine Brigade that's defending the plant, has refused to surrender but said Wednesday that, "We are probably facing our last days, if not hours."

Go deeper: Satellite images show mass grave in Ukrainian town near Mariupol

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