In February, US Defense Minister Lloyd Austin stated at a press conference following the ninth “Ramstein” that the United States anticipates Ukraine to launch a counteroffensive this spring. He said that the Contact Group on the Defense of Ukraine’s partners worked diligently to provide Ukraine with armoured vehicles so that they could be effective on the battlefield. During the press conference, Austin also stated that allied nations would continue to provide Kyiv with full combat capability, not just equipment, and would synchronise integrated military training plans for the Ukranians.
This week, the first Western tanks began arriving in Ukraine, prompting speculation that Kyiv may soon launch a counteroffensive against the Russian forces and questioning whether the more advanced weapons will turn the tide of the conflict in its favour.
The Minister of Defense of Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov, uploaded a video to Twitter where he could be seen sitting atop a British Challenger 2 main battle tank (MBT) in an unspecified location in Ukraine.
Ukraine is currently receiving fourteen Challenger 2 tanks from the United Kingdom. On Wednesday, the British Minister of Defense, Ben Wallace, stated that he could not conjecture on an imminent Ukrainian offensive because he was not in a position to do so.
It is common knowledge that the Ukrainian government is eager to launch the process by which Russian troops will be pushed back from the conflict zone, said Wallace.
On Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz verified that Germany had delivered 18 of its highly regarded Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) to Ukraine. Canada and Norway have also sent out several Leopard 2 tanks. Poland, Spain, Finland, and the Netherlands have also pledged to deploy Leopard tanks, but the exact number has yet to be confirmed.
According to European commanders, this could tip the scales supporting Ukrainian forces. Vice Admiral Herve Blejean, commander of the European Union training mission for Ukrainian troops, told Reuters in early March that Ukrainian soldiers may not be the best-trained or best-equipped combatants, but they are holding the front line because they are confronting a “tsunami” of soldiers. He said the Ukrainian military is defensive against the over 300,000 Russian soldiers.
He said that when the Ukrainians employ superior tanks such as the Leopard, they can break through and consider counterattacks, adding that they are battling for Bakhmut and are performing admirably. But, the balance of powers is not in their favour, he said.
Ukraine likely needs more Western tanks to initiate a significant counteroffensive. Given the pledged numbers, there may be between 30 and 40. Currently, it is probably insufficient, but it is still quite substantial. A counterattack involves more than just Tanks. Coordination in the deployment of the new armaments is essential. The question is whether Ukraine can protect, employ, and concentrate Western weapons effectively enough to burst through better-prepared Russian lines. It pertains to the infantry combat vehicles that accompany tanks. It is also about the artillery pieces and the ammunition required.
In an interview with the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that his forces require additional Western arms before launching a counteroffensive. Zelenskyy noted that his nation is awaiting the arrival of munitions and fighter jets from western countries. He said that the counterattack cannot begin yet.
However, his defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov says that Ukraine is preparing for the spring counteroffensive, expected to commence in April or May. Oleksiy Reznikov stated in an ERR interview that the timetable of offensive actions also depends on weather conditions.
According to Reznikov, Ukraine will experience significant improvement this year. The minister is confident that the Ukrainian military will continue to liberate temporarily occupied territories, as it did in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Kherson.
Previously, he had said that Ukraine would launch an operation even without new fighter aircraft.
The Ukrainian Chief of intelligence, Kyrylo Oleksiyovych Budanov, also predicts that decisive conflicts will occur in Ukraine between the middle and end of spring.
The melting spring
Along the front line, the terrain is undergoing rapid change. Spring thaw will transform icy fields into wetlands. It just makes movements and manoeuvres more complex. Consequently, this encourages stagnation or a lack of offensive action in the large open manoeuvres around cities. Urban conflicts can, of course, continue.
Western nations have pledged dozens of additional tanks and other heavy weapons in the coming months. The United States is shipping 31 Abrams MBTs to Ukraine, but their arrival is expected at the end of the year.
Both sides are preparing for a protracted conflict, so battlefield advances will likely be limited.