More tank news. But this one is actually a bit confusing. Polish President Andrzej Duda was in Lviv yesterday for a summit and announced that Poland will send some of its 250 German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine – although he didn’t say how many or when.
In fact he went on to say that the decision still effectively lies with the Germans, as the rider on the supply contract to Poland is that it can’t export them without explicit permission from Berlin – which last week made it clear it wasn’t sending any of its own tanks to Ukraine. So one assumes that Poland has not got this permission and so can’t and won’t send the promised tanks.
It could be that Duda intends to ignore his obligation to Germany and just send the tanks anyway, fait accompli. I can easily see Poland doing that, as it is Russia’s bitterest critic in the EU. That would put the cat amongst the pigeons, and I suspect that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz would be forced to turn a blind eye if Poland did.
That didn’t stop lots of media outlets leading with “Poland to send tanks to Ukraine”, thus muddying the water. The comments from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba both downplayed Duda’s “gift” and called on Germany (indirectly) to allow at least Poland to send some tanks even if Berlin is going to keep its own Leopards.
The whole episode highlights the PR that is going on around this war. Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen keep coming out with adamant “we will never give up”, etc, statements of undying fraternal loyalty to the Ukrainian cause and this was more of the same. Duda promised something that could actually turn the war around, yet I’m pretty sure it is not true and won’t happen.
Where does that leave us? While the rhetoric is that “Ukraine is winning”, the reality is “Ukraine is not losing” – and that, if we are frank, is actually the West’s policy: to make sure Russia doesn’t defeat Ukraine, not to ensure a Ukrainian victory.
I’ve said this in this blog many times, but again: so far we have sent only defensive weapons to counter Russia’s assault, but little in the way of offensive weapons that would actually allow Ukraine to win. The most offensive weapons sent so far are the HIMARS, but even those can only kill a few hundred at a time or take out ammo dumps, so they are very useful, but ultimately a tactical weapon, not an offensive weapon per se in the sense that it kills lots of people.
Tanks are a completely different kettle of fish. They are very offensive. In the battle raging for Bakhmut and Soledar at the moment a dozen modern main battle tanks would surely be decisive. Ukraine has already blown up most of Russia’s tanks (and by the way where are Russia’s state-of-the-art Armata tanks? I haven’t seen a single report referring to their use) and if Russia fields more, Ukraine’s Javelins could blow those up too. But Russia has nothing like the Javelin, so a squad of Leopards with infantry support would be devastating.
Instead, Ukraine appears to be losing in Soledar. Russia reports overrunning the town. Ukraine denies it. The Russian press reports that nearby Ukrainian hospitals are struggling with a flood of wounded. Make of that what you will, but the Ukrainian side reported this morning that Ukrainian doctors had removed an unexploded grenade from a soldier’s chest next to his heart yesterday. Ukraine’s social media is full of pictures of fields covered with Russian corpses. And I include a satellite picture of Soledar in today’s piece that shows there is little of the town left. Irrespective of who is winning or losing, this is clearly a very cruel and desperate battle being fought largely by artillery and infantry.
Sifting through all this and it appears that even our policy of “not lose” is not working, as the Russians are now better organised and have more ammo than Ukraine. Russia is making glacial progress but nevertheless is making progress.
These Russian “successes”, for want of a better word, must be partly driving all the recent talk about tanks. The West has upped its support of Ukraine incrementally, giving it new kinds of weapons at each stage, but always just short of the point where it gives weapons that would give Ukraine a clear advantage so that it could assault Russia’s positions.
The promise to send Patriot missiles is more of the same. The US is saying they will arrive “in six months”, which is next to useless, and Patriots are both useless at shooting down drones and, at several million bucks a pop, they are also far too expensive to use against drones that cost about $10,000 each. The Patriots make great headlines that get the pro-Ukraine lobby excited but yet again, they are defensive and make almost no difference to enabling Ukraine to win the war. The main reason Ukraine has done as well as it has falls squarely on their leonine heroism and determination – with the help of a lot of Russian disorganisation and stupidity.
I must sound very cynical, but increasingly I am. This is not the way that the West fights its own wars. The central strategy of the US military is “shock and awe”: to so massively out-gun your opponent that you can steamroll them and win the active fighting part of the war in a few weeks. That way you can keep casualties to a minimum. A total of 7,054 US servicemen died in the Afghan and Iraq wars combined. And Afghanistan went on for 20 years. Ukraine has lost an estimated 100,000 men and women in the 10 months of this war.
So why is the West following this insanely murderous half measures policy? Stoltenberg has made it clear Nato’s top priority is to avoid open war between Russia and Nato, with helping Ukraine second. Currently this is still a war between Russia and Ukraine, with Nato “helping” its friend Ukraine. So long as the weapons are “purely defensive” then Nato is not in this war on a technicality. But that all falls away if Nato sends tanks. Those are purely offensive weapons and then Russia can justifiably argue Nato is attacking Russia via its proxy Ukraine, which is already the main message of Russia’s (very effective) propaganda.
I guess everyone is scared of what happens if Russian President Vladimir Putin is backed into a corner and it becomes clear that Nato will make sure Russia will lose as opposed to just “not win”, with the prospect of a peace deal in the summer and a northern Cyprus-type frozen conflict scenario after that – something I think Putin would settle for at this point. As a bizarre result of this (to me anyway) Putin seems to accept Nato’s “we are technically not in this war” argument. If Duda does send tanks then we call his bluff. Like Scholz, I think Putin will also be forced to turn a blind eye, provided it’s not very many tanks.
If this argument is correct, then a peace deal this year becomes more likely and of course peace talks trial balloons have already been floated.
Apropos, there have also been a lot of stories in the last week about the collapse of gas prices and how Putin has “lost the energy war”. I finally found the time to dive into this and the mild winter has been extremely beneficial for Europe and a big blow to Putin. However, the energy analysts our staff at Newsbase, bne IntelliNews' sister publication that has been covering energy for well over 20 years, have talked to all say that there could easily be another and even worse energy crisis in the next heating cycle.
They say don’t get carried away by the low gas prices now, as gas is an odd commodity as the price is set by the conditions of today, not what traders expect in six months' time. If the gas storage tanks are full (Germany’s are 90%) then the price of gas by default falls to zero, as you simply have nowhere to put more. Gas futures for 12 months ahead are already double what they are now and there is a huge amount of uncertainty about what will happen during the rest of this year.
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