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At What Cost?: Russia vs Ukraine

Image: www.abc.net.auImage: www.abc.net.au

In recent days the major international news story has been the decision by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that his government will provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 battle tanks and approve requests by other countries to do the same.

Naturally, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has expressed his satisfaction at this development calling them, “important and timely decisions”.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed Germany’s decision.  “At a critical moment in Russia’s war, these can help Ukraine to defend itself, win and prevail as an independent nation,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.

Sharing the Risk

The long-awaited decision came after U.S. officials revealed earlier in the week a preliminary agreement for America to send M1 Abrams tanks to help Ukraine’s troops push back Russian forces that remain entrenched in the country’s east almost a year after Russia invaded its neighbour.

Scholz had insisted that any decision to provide Ukraine with powerful Leopard 2 tanks would need to be taken in conjunction with Germany’s allies, chiefly the United States.  By getting Washington to commit some of its own tanks, Berlin hopes to share the risk of any backlash from Russia.

It is not clear when or how the tanks would be delivered to Ukraine or how soon they could have an impact on the battlefield. German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius cautioned that it would take about three months for the first tanks to be deployed there.  He described the Leopard 2 as “the best battle tank in the world.”

Ekkehard Brose, head of the German Military’s Federal Academy for Security Policy , said tying the United States into the decision was crucial, to avoid Europe facing a nuclear-armed Russia alone.

However, he also noted the deeper historic significance of the decision.  “German-made tanks will face off against Russian tanks in Ukraine once more,” he said, adding that this was “not an easy thought” for Germany which takes its responsibility for the horrors of World War II seriously.  “And yet it is the right decision,” Brose said, arguing that it was up to Western democracies to help Ukraine stop Russia’s military campaign.

Reaction

Ahead of Scholz’s official announcement, members of his three-party coalition government welcomed the Cabinet’s agreement to supply the domestically made tanks.

“The leopard’s freed!” German lawmaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a senior Green party lawmaker, said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who had previously called into question Germany’s commitment to helping Ukraine thanked Chancellor Scholz.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain, which has said it plans to send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, welcomed Germany’s decision to further “strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower.” “Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace,” Sunak said on Twitter.

However, two smaller opposition parties criticized the move.  The far-right Alternative for Germany, which has friendly ties to Russia, called the decision “irresponsible and dangerous.”  “Germany risks being drawn directly into the war as a result,” party co-leader Tino Chrupulla said.

The Left party, which has historic links to Moscow, warned of a possible escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.  Recent polls showed German voters split on the idea.

Russia’s Response

Russia expressed mounting fury at the prospect of modern Western tanks being sent to Ukraine.  The Kremlin has repeatedly warned the West against sending tanks to Ukraine, saying they would be a legitimate target for Russia’s armed forces, like other NATO weaponry, and would make any prospect for talks to end the war an even more distant possibility.

The Russian Embassy in Berlin called the German government’s decision “extremely dangerous” and said it takes the conflict to a new level of confrontation.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that the Russia’s opponents are overestimating the potential that the tanks will add to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “…  We have already said that these tanks would burn up like the others”, he warned while speaking at a media briefing.

While politicians argue and military specialists speculate, the war in the Ukraine has been waging for almost a year now.  It is to be hoped that it will not last as long as the 4 years of the Great War, or the 6 years of World War Two. As General Sherman  famously said after the events in Atlanta during the American Civil War, “War is hell.”

Those of us who listen to the terrible news of the reports from Ukraine know that it is, but our awareness is as nothing to the citizens who have been plunged into a living hell that we had hoped never to witness again since the defeat of the Nazis.  Whatever the reasons for the invasion, and Russia will have its own excuses, it is innocent women, men, and children who will pay the blood price.

Whether the tanks hasten the end of or prolong this unfortunate war they will cause further loss of life on both sides,  That is how the business of war goes. What a better place the world would be if the words, “Thou shalt not kill” were enshrined in every human heart.

Written by Marie – Therese Cryan

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