Ukraine needs tanks 'to break the deadlock', western official says

Army needs 300 tanks and 600 armoured infantry vehicles to tilt balance in Kyiv's favour

American Abrams tanks at a training location in Poland. Western officials have said heavy tanks are needed to break the deadlock in Ukraine. EPA
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The West must provide Ukraine with heavy tanks to “break the deadlock” against the Russians, a western official has said.

Kyiv’s armed forces will require up to 300 main battle tanks to force a victory, it was suggested. Britain is considering sending a squadron of 12 Challenger IIs and Germany some of its Leopard II tanks.

The Russians are also flying their most advanced Su-57 stealth bomber in the conflict, but only from a stand-off position over fears it could be shot down, it was confirmed in a media briefing.

An official also said that the Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries — many of them former convicts — now made up a quarter of frontline forces and were suffering heavy casualties.

With an apparent stalemate between the two sides, and both running critically short on artillery and missile ammunition, if Ukraine was supplied with modern main battle tanks, it could push the invaders back.

“Someone needs to break the deadlock here,” a senior western official said. “Ukraine won't be able to win back significant amounts of territory without changes to their force posture from last year.”

While both sides have strengths and weakness, the “force ratios” between them were “too finely balanced”, the official added.

“So somebody needs to break that deadlock, especially if it's to win territory back and go on the offensive,” the official continued.

“Main battle tanks and APCs [armoured personnel carriers] are part of that mix.

“The Ukrainians will look to all partners who might provide tanks and won't really be particularly worried about where they come from just as long as they come in sufficient volume.”

That “volume” would be 300 tanks and include up to 600 APCs, with Germany and the US already agreeing to send Marder and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. France has also agreed to send a number of AMX-10 light tanks and also might be considering handing over its Leclerc heavy tanks.

“They need new capabilities, which will help give them an advantage over Russians, a variety of different capabilities which might break a deadlock,” the official said.

“One of which for offensive manoeuvres would be tanks and increased numbers of APCs.”

But training soldiers in the use of tanks would take several weeks, as both Ukraine and Russia race to reconstitute their forces and go on the offensive “in a meaningful way”.

“Both sides have a choice about when to go,” the official said. “The longer you wait, perhaps the more capable your forces will.

“On the other hand, the longer you wait, the more you might lose the advantage and things might become more static and grinding.”

The official added that a new winter offensive now appeared less likely, assessing that there would not be “any significant changes in territory over the coming months”.

The Russian’s cutting edge Su-57 Felon stealth fighter has also been flown for the first time in combat but has remained inside home airspace to prevent it being shot down.

“The Russian air force continues to underperform,” the official said. “It’s using the Su-57 aircraft in small numbers in a stand-off role, which does not fully utilise its supposed capabilities.”

He added that the Wagner mercenaries, who have a ruthless reputation, were taking a central role in the bloody fight for the area around Bakhmut.

However, “casualty rates are substantial”, with infantry assaults “poorly supported”.

Updated: January 10, 2023, 6:24 PM