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The Offensive

The Offensive

Leopard 2A6 and Leopard 2A4 suffer their first losses in Ukraine

Recent reports of the Spring Offensive in Ukraine have started off with mixed news for Ukraine. While there have been reports of some gains, the recent destruction of a dam has flooded an area south of Kherson, narrowing the territory where Ukraine can conduct their offensive. While Ukraine does have some amphibious vehicles, Russia’s numerous BMP-3s would likely be the dominant weapon in assaulting or repelling attacks in water logged regions. A ground offensive to take this now flooded territory has likely been halted, blunting the southern push against Russian fixed defences south of Kherson.

Images and video of newly supplied NATO weapons being destroyed have also appeared from the front line in Ukraine. The loss of what looks to be two Leopard 2A6s and one Leopard 2A4 was accompanied by the loss of several American made Bradley fighting vehicles. The loss of so many Bradleys will be surprising, but the loss of what was promoted as the iron fisted Leopard 2 tanks is something Russia will use to regain their reputation as a strong and capable military force.

During the 1991 Gulf War, there were very few losses of American tanks and vehicles to enemy fire. One of the most notable losses was a crew member who was killed when a Soviet made BMP-1 used its low velocity cannon designed in the 1950s to penetrate the turret of a Bradley fighting vehicle. While the Bradley is a remarkable machine, it is not invincible or as well protected as a tank. The advantage of the Bradleys were to move troops quickly to needed areas and support troops with its cannon. The Bradley’s also have two TOW missiles that can eliminate most Russian tanks, but direct fire or artillery fire on a Bradley will almost always take them out of a fight.

The Leopard 2s were always a mixed solution for Ukraine. In the past, versions of Turkey’s Leopard 2A4s were damaged and destroyed fighting militants in Syria. While the Leopard 2A6s are the most modern version of the tank given to Ukraine, they are not invincible, especially against artillery. The front of the 2A6s, while very well protected, does not extend with the same level of protection on the sides and back of the Leopard 2A6. There are only a limited number of high value weapons NATO countries can spare, and there are not an unlimited amount of Leopard 2 tanks available NATO allies can do without.

The confidence NATO has in the Leopard 2s are likely well founded, but with Ukraine now on the offensive against fixed positions, there will be big losses for the attacking side. While publicly unexpected, Ukrainian Forces have known that losses would also include some of the best weapons on the field. Heavy losses were expected, and images of burning NATO tanks should have been known to be used by Russia. The images of advanced Russian tanks exploding and losing their turrets formed much of the narrative of a weak and disorganised Russian military. Images and videos of NATO tanks perishing in much of the same manner will be used to change the narrative. The biggest loss for Ukraine will not be Leopard 2 tanks, but the will of the West to support its offensive against Russia over time.

Losing the support of NATO may come in different forms. A successful attack by Ukraine in pushing Russian forces back to the the 2014 lines may encourage many allies to push for a cease-fire, especially if weapons are depleted and local politics in ally countries turn against further combat support. As mentioned above, a change in narrative with the view of NATO tanks and equipment suffering losses to the once embarrassed Russian Army may turn ally and adversary opinions over once again as it did with Russia’s retreat from the assault on Ukraine’s major cities. Ukraine depends greatly on the morality of their cause, and NATO allies depend greatly on its popular support from their people. Losing Leopard 2 tanks in the field in horrific ways will most likely change the narrative rapidly.

Another form of lost support for Ukraine will come from a slow degradation of support for their cause within ally countries themselves. The anti-war movement in the United States seems to pass to both sides of the aisle. Scenes of a recently fallen Afghanistan are mixed with the aftermath of recent conflicts there and in Iraq as American servicemen and servicewomen are back home dealing with the after-effects of being in combat. Policies that do little to quell conflict in Ukraine also turn the public against the war. Lives could be saved if foreign drones were prevented from freely making it to Russia to be used as terror weapons. Policies should be changed to use North American energy reserves to displace the large war chest being paid for by still persistent exports of Russian Oil and Gas.

Actions by NATO allies to create the image of support hurt Ukraine’s ability to fight Russia if those actions do not lead to positive and practical outcomes. An absurd example comes by way of the treatment of Canadian NATO members who diligently have gone to Poland and Latvia to support NATO forces helping Ukraine. Canadian Forces in Europe have been ignored by their Government to the point of being a health and safety risk. Many Canadian soldiers in Poland were not given food to eat while in Poland, to the point of going into personal debt to compensate while contributing their lives to Canada, NATO and Ukraine. Canadian soldiers in Latvia were sent on training missions without protective gear, notably helmets. Their Government have ignored these issues, all while promising more Canadian Forces member’s help, money and now even a big plane. Canada said they would not meet NATOs minimum contributions as they gave more than any other nation to help Ukraine(not nearly as much as Poland), but the end result put well intentioned Canadian soldiers in danger. When assistance is given, but done to the detriment of your population who want to help, it obviously sours support for your united cause.

Ukraine’s successes or failures in pressing south to the Black Sea and fighting to re-gain territories lost in 2014 must be measured with the amount of support they realistically expect to achieve at each level of the conflict. If Ukraine can manage expectations of their successes with images of losses, they would have just managed one piece of the larger support puzzle. Objectives of success may differ in the minds of NATO allies. Accepting support from allies who’s good faith does not extend back home to their own population or troops will damage future campaigns without question. It is important to be careful in this regard.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration