Confusion swirls over Western tank caveats in Ukraine

Confusion swirls over Western tank caveats in Ukraine

COLOGNE, Germany — The Dutch government, one of the architects of European Leopard 2 tank donations to Ukraine, has placed no caveats on the weapons’ frontline use by Ukrainian troops, as confusion swirls over a report that U.S. military leaders wanted American Abrams sidelined from combat.

“Ukraine itself determines how it wants to deploy the donated equipment; the Netherlands has not imposed any additional conditions on this, other than the obligations arising from the United Nations Charter and international humanitarian law,” a spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Defense told Defense News.

The statement follows a report by the Associated Press last month that quoted U.S. officials as saying the widespread use of drones by Russian had exposed the donated Abrams to the risk of being detected and destroyed.

“When you think about the way the fight has evolved, massed armor in an environment where unmanned aerial systems are ubiquitous can be at risk,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Adm. Christopher Grady told the AP.

He added that U.S. officials would work with Ukrainian officials to develop new tank tactics on a changed battlefield “where everything is seen immediately.”

The report also quoted an unnamed official as saying Ukrainian forces weren’t using tanks in so-called combined arms operations, a military jargon reference to the practice of orchestrating air and land assets during combat so they can provide cover for one another.

Not so, say Ukrainian Abrams operators, according to a video posted on Youtube this week by Army TV, a channel run by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, as reported by Business Insider. A soldier of Ukraine’s 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade, identified in the video as Dmytro, said Abrams tanks were still being used in frontline combat, though not in tank-on-tank battles.

The video’s English subtitles quote him as saying, “Full of lies,” when an Army TV correspondent asks him about the Abrams sidelining reported by the “quite respectably American mass media,” an apparent reference to the AP story.

The Russian government is currently displaying captured Western weapons, including Abrams and Leopard tanks, as war trophies in Moscow. The exhibit comes comes as President Vladimir Putin, newly sworn in for another term following elections described by U.S. and European officials as a sham, has intensified his rhetoric casting the attack on Ukraine as an existential fight against NATO and the collective West.

The U.S. government has donated 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, of which five were reportedly lost in combat.

European leaders agreed last year to send about 80 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, with lead nations Germany giving 18 and the Netherlands and Denmark donating a combined 14.

The Dutch Ministry of Defense said officials aren’t tracking the donated behemoths. “The Netherlands doesn’t have any insight into loss or damage to Leopards that were provided in part due to involvement by the Netherlands,” the spokesperson told Defense News.

Defense officials in Berlin declined to comment on the question of Leopard operational caveats and losses, citing operational security concerns.

Ruitenberg reported from Paris.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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