Sending tanks will escalate tension with Russia, warns ex Army chief

Ukrainian MP Kira Rudik reveals delight at receiving NATO tanks

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Recent tank pledges to Ukraine from NATO forces will cause an “escalation of tensions” with Russia, a former UK Army chief has said. After top Ukrainian officials hailed Wednesday’s weapons pledges as the beginning of the “real punching fist of democracy”, General Lord Richard Dannatt, speaking to the i, suggested that while this support would likely increase hostilities with Russia, it nonetheless provided “no justification” for Russia to target NATO territories. His comments reflect the geopolitical wordplay now being employed across the Western major powers, epitomised by US President Joe Biden in his White House address yesterday, that while these new tranches of support amount to a move away from simply defensive weaponry, “it is not an offensive threat to Russia”.

For months, Ukrainian officials have been calling for German-made Leopard 2 and US-made Abrams M1 main battle tanks.

One military expert told the that the tanks, used in combination with Marder and Bradley fighting vehicles, which were pledged by the Germany and US respectively earlier this month, “would be a very effective strike force”.

Professor Michael Clarke said they would “allow the Ukrainians to blunt the thrust of a major Russian offensive (expected in spring) and open up their own line of offensive”.

Meanwhile, production of Russia’s equivalent tank, the T-14 Armatas, has been “dogged with delays” and “manufacturing problems”, meaning Russian “commanders are unlikely to [be able to] trust the vehicle in combat”, the British Ministry of Defence said in a daily update on January 19.

This, as well as the fact that Kremlin threats of escalation in the face of NATO involvement have been commonplace throughout the war, explain the latest rounds of vociferous Russian reaction to these tank pledges.

Russian ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said the US promises of 31 Abrams M1 tanks amounted to a “blatant provocation”; the ambassador to Germany, Sergei Nechaev, said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s pledge of 14 Leopard 2 tanks, with the intention to send a further company at a later date, was an “extremely dangerous” move; and Yevgeny Satanovsky, president of the Moscow Institute of the Middle East, said the German capital should be turned into “slightly radioactive, melted-down ground” by way of retaliation.

But Lord Dannatt suggested such a reaction would be “very unwise” and that Western support involves “no intention whatsoever to attack Russia”.

He said: “Yes, there will be an escalation of tension [between Russia and the West]. But it’s important that we get our messaging absolutely right: the reason that we’re doing what we’re doing is to enable Ukraine to reclaim all its sovereign territory, which by international law, they’re allowed to occupy every last square kilometre of, including Crimea.

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“We have no intention to go beyond that. There’s no intention whatsoever to attack Russia, or to diminish Russia. Our aim is a strategic aim solely to enable Ukraine to control its sovereign territory.

“Russia would be very unwise if it started to attack targets outside Ukraine. There is no justification for doing that.”

Russia has made a habit of reacting aggressively to what it views as offensive manoeuvres since they invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year, though threats of nuclear reaction have, up to this point, been empty.

Following an explosion on the Kerch Strait Bridge, which connects Russia to Crimea, and over which support to the frontlines has been continually transported, on October 8, Putin hired General Sergei Surovikin, nicknamed General Armageddon, to launch a brutal series of long range missile strikes across Ukrainian cities hundreds of miles behind the front lines.

On Thursday morning, the latest round of those attacks killed at least 11 people and wounded a further 11, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service, Oleksandr Khorunzhyi, said, in what could also be viewed as a response to the West’s latest tranches of support.

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Dr Marina Miron, an expert in defence studies at King’s College London, warned that Putin could also now look to “intensify their information warfare” in another form of retaliation.

She said: “They will be trying to exploit the tensions existing within European countries and they have been doing that.

“What they’re doing is picking up existing issues and amplifying them and kind of twisting facts, and this is a real weapon for the Russians, also for the military, against the West.”

Baroness Goldie, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence, appeared to suggest that the UK was already preparing for this possibility, telling the House of Lords on Thursday that they were “starting to be a little more free handed about disclosing intelligence” to Ukraine.

She said: “On dealing with propaganda and misinformation, we have used our own intelligence, in conjunction with the United States and the armed forces of Ukraine and Ukrainian intelligence sources, to start being a little more free handed about disclosing intelligence.

“We think that is the best way to neutralise the poison of lies and misinformation, and it has proved to be very effective.”

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