The late Sir Winston Churchill described the Soviet Union as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” but today’s Russia just seems a bit bipolar. Half the time, Kremlin officials warn that Western-supplied military hardware is simply extending the war in Ukraine, and that it would end immediately without foreign aid.
The other half of the time, Russia claims that platforms sent to aid Ukraine will be destroyed in short order.
It is difficult to believe both can be true. But Moscow has warned, again, that the U.S. sending M1 Abrams and long-range ATACMS missiles risks escalating the conflict — yet it won’t change the outcome.
The latter point was made by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday when asked about the U.S. military hardware that will soon arrive in Ukraine. Peskov said Russia’s armed forces have been able to adapt to new weapons in its “special military operation (SVO),” the term the Kremlin uses to describe the ongoing war.
“All this can in no way affect the essence of the SVO and its outcome. There is no panacea and no one type of weapon that can change the balance of power on the battlefield,” Peskov told reporters.
“Abrams tanks are serious weapons, but remember what the president said about other tanks made in another country,” the Kremlin mouthpiece said, referencing Western tanks that had been supplied to Kyiv, including the German-made Leopard 2 and British Challenger 2. Several Leopard 2s have been lost since June, while the first Challenger 2 was destroyed in recent fighting earlier this month.
“Well, these (Abrams) too will burn,” Peskov added.
Punching Through Russian Lines
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that the M1 Abrams tanks, which began to arrive in Ukraine this week, could soon be sent into battle and will be used to reinforce its brigades.
It was also last week that the Biden administration agreed to send Kyiv the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), which could be used to help Ukraine attack and disrupt supply lines, air bases, and rail networks in Russian-occupied territory.
There has been concern that the U.S. and other Western nations waited too long in finally agreeing to send such platforms. Further, Kyiv has not received these platforms in quantities significant enough to bring about a rapid victory. The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday suggested the U.S. Abrams tanks are a case of too little, too late.
The Ukrainian Way
Ukraine could certainly use more Western hardware, but its forces have made significant progress in recent weeks, breaking through Russian lines in the southeast of the country. One factor in that success might be that Ukrainian troops have begun to abandon Western tactics, reverting to what helped the Ukrainians stop the Russian invasion.
Ukraine’s forces started a long-anticipated offensive in early June as a NATO army might have done — with mass attacks.
As the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War reported on Monday, “Ukraine recognized the realities of Russian defenses much faster than Western policymakers, who were expecting a rapid Ukrainian breakthrough.” Kyiv’s troops then “adapted their tactics after they encountered initial setbacks and were increasingly successful in using small infantry assaults backed by precision fires to make inroads against Russian defenses.”
Instead of head-on attacks in large groups, Ukraine pivoted to what worked previously, employing smaller units backed by precision artillery strikes. Since that time, the Ukrainian military has made steady progress.
“Ukrainian decision-making has not been flawless — and neither has the West’s, for that matter,” ISW added. “However, Ukrainian adaptations to battlefield realities, especially when considering the immense constraints Ukraine is operating under, have been effective. Ukraine’s decision to pivot away from the type of large-scale mechanized breaches that its counteroffensive brigades were trained by NATO to perform, in hindsight, has enabled Ukraine’s progress.”
Thus we may not expect to see massed tank attacks with columns of M1s — not that Kyiv has that many to begin with. Instead, Ukraine will likely use small units, including small-scale tank forces probing for weaknesses to exploit within the Russian defenses. At the same time, the ATACMS could be used to disrupt Russian supply lines.
It is very likely that a few M1 Abrams will indeed burn — tanks will always be lost in battle. Though it is among the best main battle tanks in service today, the M1 Abrams is not a wonder weapon capable of avoiding the most basic realities of war. But perhaps Peskov needs to be reminded that Russia has seen hundreds of its best tanks destroyed already.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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