The war front in Ukraine has remained largely unchanged since November 9, 2022, when Moscow announced the withdrawal of troops from the city of Kherson amid the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
Russia has occupied much of southern and eastern Ukraine since the war began on February 24, 2022. Sham referendums not recognized by the international community resulted in the September 30 annexation of four provinces (oblasts): Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson.
However, the Ukrainian military managed to regain part of the originally captured territory, notably the Kharkiv region in early September and the city of Kherson in early November.
In the past few days, fighting has focused on the Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Soledar. These two cities in the eastern region of Donetsk region are currently the most contentious points on the front line. Russia even announced the capture of Soledar, but Ukraine said it still controls the small town.
New major Russian offensive?
In recent weeks, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly warned that Russia is preparing a major spring offensive. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy even said he had no doubt that this would happen.
General Valerii Zaluzhny, CommanderinChief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, has stated that the major Russian offensive could start as early as the end of January. He said he didn’t know for sure whether the offensive would start in the Donbass region (east), in the south or in the north of Belarus towards the capital Kyiv.
The Federal Ministry of Defense is also assuming a major Russian offensive in Ukraine, but not until April, according to an internal analysis by the Swiss newspaper “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”.
Analysts from the German body draw two scenarios: In the first, President Vladimir Putin would try to conquer the entire Donbass region. The offensive would begin in April. At the same time, Belarus would station tens of thousands of soldiers on the border with Ukraine. The Ukrainian armed forces would therefore have to be divided between protecting the border with Belarus and fighting in the Donbass.
In the second scenario, Putin would attempt to conquer all of Ukraine in a twofront war with the help of soldiers from Belarus. These would march towards Kyiv while the Russians would attack from the Donbass. Russian soldiers would go all the way to the Polish border to stop western arms shipments and occupy Transnistria. However, this scenario would require full Russian mobilization.
The head of the Ukrainian military intelligence service, Kyrylo Budanov, told the US broadcaster ABC News that Ukraine was planning a major counteroffensive in the spring of Europe. He explained that more areas will be liberated, from Crimea to Donbass.
Either fearing a Russian offensive or wanting to retake the occupied territory, Ukraine has increased its requests for military aid to the West, including American ATACM missile launchers with a range of 300 kilometers and German Leopard 2 type heavy tanks. .
British main battle tank Challenger 2, the delivery of which Great Britain has promisedPhoto: Tomasz Waszczuk/PAP/epa/dpa/picture alliance
But since the war began, the West has been reluctant to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine, fearing being drawn into a war or provoking Russia, which is a nuclear power. And of all Western countries, none is more reserved than Germany.
This Western attitude has changed significantly in recent weeks. In late December, the United States announced the deployment of a Patriot missile defense system battery. The Ukrainian government has long called for this advanced surfacetoair missile system capable of hitting aircraft, cruise missiles and shortrange ballistic missiles.
In early January, Germany and the United States pledged to send 40 German Marder and 50 American M2 Bradley fighting vehicles. And Germany promised to deliver another Patriot battery, which it had previously refused.
France has said it will send an unspecified number of AMX10 RC light main battle tanks.
Days later, Britain announced the delivery of Challenger 2 main battle tanks, becoming the first country to deliver westernbuilt MBT battle vehicles to Ukraine.
Poland, for its part, has agreed to supply 14 Leopard main battle tanks but needs approval from Germany, where they will be manufactured.
The USA and Germany supplied batteries of the Patriot air defense system to Ukraine
The Marder and M2 Bradleys are Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) used for troop transport and fire support. The AMX10 RC are armored fighting vehicles (AFV) used for reconnaissance missions in hazardous environments and fire support.
The Leopard 2 and Challenger 2 belong to a different category, Main Battle Tanks (MBT), also known as main battle tanks, with heavy armament and armour. Leopard 2 are often used in combination with martens.
Decisions by the British and Polish governments, which appear to have been combined, have increased pressure on Germany to free supplies from other countries or to supply the Leopard 2 tanks itself, which Ukraine has repeatedly requested.
During a visit by German Minister Annalena Baerbock to Kharkiv, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba once again called for tanks.
But Chancellor Olaf Scholz is holding back and wants to make a considered and considered decision. He argued that the majority of the German population supported him in this position. In addition, he recalled that Germany had already decided to send Marder tanks.
However, the pressure on Berlin is increasing, both in the opposition and within the government and also externally. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine will receive more heavy weapons from Western allies in the near future.
He may be referring to the January 20 meeting of Western countries supporting Ukraine at the US air base in Ramstein, Germany, at which a joint deployment of Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv could be decided.
Soldiers can be transported with Marder tanksPhoto: BeckerBredel/IMAGO
The difference Leopard 2 can make
Ukraine has already said it could win the war as early as 2023 if the West supplies it with more capable military hardware, including longrange missiles and heavy tanks.
Tanks are a key element in ground combat. Without them, Ukraine is unlikely to be able to recapture the territory occupied by Russia. So far, the Ukrainian military has mainly used Soviet T72 tanks, some of which were captured by fleeing Russian soldiers. After a year of war, many have been destroyed or damaged.
The Leopard 2, manufactured by the German defense industry KraussMaffei Wegmann, is considered one of the best western main battle tanks. Experts say that in significant numbers, these combat vehicles could significantly improve Ukraine’s ability to repel Russian forces.
The Leopard 2 weighs over 60 tons, has a 120mm gun and can hit a target up to five kilometers away. The diesel engine is comparatively economical and therefore more suitable for the Ukraine in times of shortage than, for example, American Abrams tanks, which consume significantly more fuel.
Around 20 countries have more than 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks in total, which means that each country could supply part of its arsenal. In this way, Ukraine would avoid receiving tanks of different types, making it easier to maintain and train soldiers.
Biden helped but didn’t deliver everything Zelenski asked Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP
But there are still limits to helping
Leopard 2 main battle tanks and American ATACM missile launchers can play a key role at a time when Ukrainian forces have been able to gain ground and withstand heavy Russian attacks.
Zelenski reiterated his interest in ATACM missile launchers during a meeting with US President Joe Biden just before Christmas, but Biden’s denial was categorical.
The ATACMs, with a range of 300 kilometers, could hit Russian arms caches in the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine, which are off the front line and out of reach of the Ukrainians. Or even used to hit Russian soil, which could lead to an escalation of the conflict.
For example, despite increased military aid in recent weeks, the West has indicated through Biden’s refusal that there are still limits to military cooperation with Ukraine.