Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday his government would provide more support to Ukraine, but declined to join its allies in announcing a donation of German-made tanks to fend off Russian forces.
A military expert said Germany’s announcement to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine will put pressure on Trudeau to follow suit.
“We will continue to be there to provide all possible support to Ukraine,” Trudeau said. “I won’t make an announcement today, but I can tell you that we are looking very, very closely at what more we can do to support Ukraine.”
Trudeau made the remarks in Hamilton, Ont., where he is attending a cabinet retreat before Parliament returns.
For weeks, Ukraine has been asking its allies to supply it with up to 300 German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks. Several allies have these tanks in their inventories but were unable to donate them until Germany gave approval for the vehicles to be transferred to a third party.
Earlier Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that his country would provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its own army.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Germany briefed several allies on its plan ahead of the announcement, including Canada.
“Germany will always be at the forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine,” Scholz said later in a speech to lawmakers in Germany’s federal parliament.
Allies step up
Germany made this announcement the same day. US President Joe Biden told reporters in Washington that the United States would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
Germany, reluctant to incur Russia’s wrath by sending tanks on its own, had declared that the Leopards would only be sent if the United States put its Abrams on the table.
The UK announced last week that it would send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Norway’s defense minister announced his country would also donate Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, joining Poland, Finland, Spain and the Netherlands.
Walter Dorn, professor of defense studies at the Royal Military College, said donations announced by other countries will put pressure on Canada to do the same.
“I think there will be pressure from the United States for Canada to get the Leopard-2 tanks because the Leopard-2s will be the mainstay of Ukraine’s armored forces,” he said. .
Dorn said the Abrams tanks are very different from the Leopard-2 tanks and the allies probably want Ukraine to have a more uniform fleet of vehicles to ensure they can be supported with parts and repairs. on the battlefield.
Dorn said the German announcement is important because it allows Ukraine to counter Russian advances in Ukraine and launch its own attacks.
“It’s potentially a game-changer because it adds a lot more punch to the Ukrainian forces,” Dorn told CBC News. “They are a whole generation better.
“Western weapons are heavier, they have better armor, they can pack more punch, they have the ability to take territory more easily. Really, the [Russian] The T-72s don’t stand a chance against these more modern weapons.”
Dorn said that although Ukraine requested 300 tanks, having only 100 such vehicles would make a significant difference on the battlefield.
Germany said the tanks would not be ready for combat for several months.
Dorn said it will take time to train crews and build the maintenance facilities needed to keep the tanks operational.
The Canadian Armed Forces have 112 Leopard 2s in their inventory. They include 82 designed for combat and 30 used for engineering and disabled vehicle recovery purposes. Many are not combat ready due to maintenance issues.
According to an article published last year by the Royal Military College, “the low serviceability of Leopard 2 main battle tanks has been an endemic problem and a concern at the strategic level since its implementation”.
The newspaper blames maintenance problems on the lack of infrastructure, technicians and spare parts.
Forces will not say how many tanks are combat ready
Retired Lieutenant-General and former Canadian Army Commander Jean-Marc Lanthier said in an interview with The Canadian Press that any donation will almost certainly have to balance Ukraine’s needs and the potential impact on the country. Canadian Army.
“Getting rid of all the tanks – because we have so few of them, and so few actively working – would have an immediate impact on the readiness of the army,” said Lanthier, who served as an armored officer.
“Is this something that should prevent us from sending tanks? I think we have a moral responsibility in terms of the immediacy of the demands of the Ukrainian armed forces and the Ukrainian people. They are waging a war. We are not .”
Canada bought its Leopards from Germany during the war in Afghanistan. They are nominally divided into squadrons of 19 tanks each, with two squadrons in Edmonton and a third at CFB Gagetown, NB. Most of the others are at the Armor Training School in Gagetown.
“And normally you keep a bunch of them in a repository ready to deploy, but that’s not something we necessarily do because we don’t have the numbers,” Lanthier said.
Department of National Defense spokesman Andrew McKelvey would not comment Wednesday on the percentage of Army Leopard 2s that are currently combat-ready and the number that are out of service for maintenance or other reasons.
“Tank maintenance is similar to aircraft maintenance, and the state of the fleet at any given time depends on a comprehensive maintenance, repair and overhaul program, which is tied to specific training requirements or operational employment,” he said.
“For operational security reasons, we cannot specify how many Leopard 2s are being serviced at any given time or give an indication of their maintenance schedule.”
The question the government will face will be whether the benefit of sending tanks to Ukraine outweighs the impact on the military, Lanthier said. If so, another question will be whether those tanks will be replaced – and if so, how quickly.