Status: 04/26/2022 7:35 p.m
The promised “Gepard” tanks for Ukraine could not be operational for weeks, says military expert Wolfgang Richter tagesschau.de-Interview. In combination with other weapons, the country still has an advantage.
tagesschau.de: Germany has now agreed to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine itself – this was preceded by weeks of pressure from the Ukrainian government, but also from voices in federal politics, among others. So where does the turnaround come from?
Wolfgang Richter: I don’t see an about-face in German politics, but rather a gradual increase in what we have already delivered. It can be seen that the Allies have also been hesitant to deliver heavy weapons – this is still the case when it comes to main battle tanks. The US then became the first to deliver howitzers to Ukraine. The Netherlands have offered the Panzerhaubitze 2000 system, which requires German approval – and Germany will provide the training aid for it.
Before that, there was initially the ring exchange with Slovakia. But there were also good reasons for this: it makes more sense for the Ukrainians to get weapon systems that they can use very quickly, for which the logistics chain is already in place and for which they do not have to be trained first – and for which the appropriate ammunition and spare parts are available. The only new thing today is that the “Gepard” anti-aircraft tank from German stock is to be delivered to the Ukraine.
Former Colonel Wolfgang Richter is a research associate in the security policy research group at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin.
tagesschau.de: What can Ukraine do with the howitzers and main battle tanks it is now supposed to get?
Judge: We’ll have to wait and see what condition the tanks are in. Because the “cheetah” has long since been retired from the Bundeswehr and will not be in a state of immediate readiness for action. It must first be determined: In what condition are the tanks? How many spare parts do you still have? Can they be repaired in a short time? Is the logistics chain still intact? Do you have to produce again? Is there ammo left for this? And we see the fire control and radar equipment? Only then can the training take place – and then a delivery. That won’t happen in a few days, but will probably take weeks.
“In combination, the weapons can work”
tagesschau.de: What military advantage can Ukraine gain from the heavy weapons that have now been promised?
Judge: The “Gepard” tanks are defensive tanks. Having them comes in handy when trying to combat enemy air superiority and ensure that your ground forces can move on the ground without being immediately and directly attacked by aircraft. This is certainly a great advantage.
The howitzers, i.e. the artillery, are necessary to stop the very armored and artillery attack of the Russian troops and to provide return fire; in order to decimate the Russian tank columns, to stop them – or at least to stop them temporarily so that the corresponding anti-tank weapons, which Germany, among others, has already supplied, can then take effect.
All of the weapons mentioned can work in combination – because there is no duel on the battlefield, but a battle of combined weapons. This means that you have to coordinate the weapons well in order for them to have their effect. And in this the Ukrainians are better than the Russians.
tagesschau.de: At the press conference in Ramstein, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pledged that the one-off meeting would become a monthly contact group of allies that would regularly ask about Ukraine’s needs. Doesn’t the Russian leadership see this as a provocation on the part of NATO?
Judge: The one provoking here is Russia. Russia has launched an attack contrary to international law, violating the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Ukraine has every right under the United Nations Charter to defend itself – both individually and collectively. According to the law, even other states could intervene in the fighting and send troops. But that is exactly what NATO is not doing: it does not want to conduct its own military operations in Ukraine, but it is going as far as one can go without becoming a party to the war itself – namely by supplying weapons. And doing this continuously is of course in the hope that the Russian side will not prevail and that Ukraine will be able to continue to defend itself – so that territorial integrity is not further compromised or if one hopes for a happy ending , even parts of the integrity can be restored.
“Barrier” in front of the modern device
tagesschau.de: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently indicated that the danger of a nuclear war “should not be underestimated” – Russia’s good will has its limits. When asked about this, US Secretary of Defense Austin replied in Ramstein that he did not want to get involved in such a discussion. How is the risk to be assessed?
Judge: Risk consists of two elements: one is the impact of a nuclear attack, the other is its probability. Even if the probability is extremely small, the impact would be very large – and in this respect the risks must be set higher than zero. On the other hand, Russia knows when it resorts to this means that whenever NATO is attacked, a corresponding counterattack will follow. But if there is a rule “whoever shoots first, dead second”, then from the Russian point of view it is pointless to take such a step. At the moment I still think that is chilling rhetoric.
Of course, one can speculate about the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine – if Russia doesn’t just stick to its deterrent rhetoric, but breaks the taboo of using nuclear weapons for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that would be the end of the non-proliferation regime. Then Russia would be isolated worldwide. There would be no one – not even China or India – who would hold back or vote for the Russian side. And there would certainly be military consequences. But there is no point in pursuing such scenarios now. That would be a case that obviously needs to be prevented – but at the moment I think that’s rhetoric intended to deter the West from supplying more weapons.
tagesschau.de: So what role will Germany play in supporting Ukraine – including with heavy weapons – in the coming weeks?
Judge: Germany will continue to pursue the policy it has pursued up to now: namely to supply weapons – in close coordination with allies. And since Germany is an economically powerful country, it will also deliver a relatively large amount after the USA. We’ve seen that in the past. So this shouldn’t be described as a special path, but rather Germany did what many alliance partners did.
Financially, Germany is already very far ahead when it comes to support and will now also supply heavy weapons. But so far there is still a barrier, even with the Americans, to supply very modern equipment of Western design – for example battle tanks. We don’t see that in any of the Allies, and I don’t think we’ll see that from Germany anytime soon. Especially since the Bundeswehr itself must of course increase its ability to defend itself, because it is not fully equipped. This has to happen now, so that we have units that are ready for action and able to sustainably go into such a mission in a short space of time.
The conversation was led by Jasper Steinlein, tagesschau.de