Poland has sent at least 240 Soviet-style tanks to Ukraine, Polish officials said, a donation that is enough to form two new tank brigades as Ukraine races to rebuff Russia’s advance in the east of the country.
The T-72 tanks were donated in recent weeks alongside self-propelled howitzers, Grad rocket launchers and other Soviet-designed weaponry from the stocks of Poland, which has become Ukraine’s key benefactor within the European Union. While bigger EU countries such as France and Germany were debating the escalatory risks of offering Ukraine much smaller amounts of weaponry, Poland was quietly giving away roughly half its T-72 tanks.
Collectively, the considerable supply of heavy equipment, described by four Polish officials briefed on the issue, shows the accelerating pace at which NATO allies, including the US, are helping arm Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine are both losing large quantities of vehicles in combat. To help replace its losses, Kyiv is turning to NATO countries, especially along the eastern flank of the military alliance, that view the war as existential for their own independence.
Poland isn’t the only country to donate tanks, but it has given Ukraine far more than any other Western ally has reported doing. The Czech Republic has sent Ukraine several dozen T-72 tanks. This week, after an extended public debate, Germany decided to refurbish about 50 Flakpanzer Gepard antiaircraft cannon tanks, for onward delivery to Ukraine. The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve a $33 billion package of military and economic aid for Ukraine.
Aside from tanks, Poland has also given Ukraine locally manufactured surveillance drones and dozens of infantry fighting vehicles. It has also sent oil overland into Ukraine to keep the country’s military vehicles fueled.
“Ukraine got from Poland more than it asked for,” one senior Polish official said.
The US is selling 250 Abrams tanks to Poland to help replace those Poland donated. The UK has also offered to send your own tanks to Poland to stave off any concerns that the country, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, now lacks enough for its own defense.
Poland’s donation more than replaces all of the tanks Ukraine is known to have lost in the course of the two-month-long war. So far, 60 Ukrainian tanks have been destroyed, another eight abandoned, one damaged and 73 captured, according to Oryx, an open-source intelligence blog that only counts visual evidence of equipment loss.
By comparison, 305 Russian tanks have been destroyed, with 15 damaged, 49 abandoned and 217 captured.
Russia’s campaign of missile strikes across Ukraine has targeted in particular the country’s defense industry, making it difficult for Ukraine to repair the tanks that have been damaged or captured. But both the Czech Republic and neighboring Slovakia, which shares a border with Ukraine, are considering opening their military-industrial installations to repair and refit such equipment.
The provision of tanks shows how NATO’s allies are now effectively producing and giving Ukraine the volumes and types of weaponry and vehicles needed to wage a large-scale conventional conflict. Western governments initially expected Kyiv to fall within a few days and the equipment they provided the Ukrainian military consisted mostly of shoulder-fired missiles such as NLAW, Javelin and Stinger that could be used by small units, moving on foot.
Instead, the Ukrainian military held its capital, pushing Russian forces to focus their attention on the country’s east, in a war that is being fought with long-range artillery, tanks and aircraft. Helping Ukraine rapidly acquire the equipment it needs for such an intensive campaign has been a challenge for NATO allies, whose weapons manufacturers weren’t geared up to make the materials Ukraine is requesting at a wartime pace.
Defense contractors are facing pandemic-driven shortages of computer chips, propellants and labor. Even the US, the world’s largest arms maker and exporter, is running short of some weapons, such as Stinger missiles, which require a rocket motor in such a short supply that new units may not be mass-produced until next year.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has turned to countries in Central and Eastern Europe that were once allied with the Soviet Union, and thus have stocks of old equipment similar to what Ukrainian fighters are able to use and repair. The Czech Republic has set up a hotline so that Kyiv can order what it needs from Czech weapon stocks.
Delivering that equipment to the Ukrainian units that need it has become more difficult, however, as the fighting is increasingly concentrated in the distant east of the country, Polish officials said.
“They need more and they need it immediately,” said one senior Polish diplomat. “Time now is the key thing. The US is delivering important things but the question is to move this equipment to the front line as quickly as possible.”
Poland has also offered to treat wounded Ukrainian fighters in its clinics, reserving up to 10,000 beds in more than 120 hospitals. It has prepared a medical train line to bring those casualties in and out of the country. But very few Ukrainians have come in for care, because the fighting is taking place so far to the east. Ukrainians have also proven adept at managing their own battle wounds, Polish officials said.
Write to Drew Hinshaw at email@example.com
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