Some analysts believe the single most effective weapon the United States could give Ukraine is precision-guided missiles. Ukraine’s army, by training and tradition, focuses on artillery. It is that expertise that allowed them to quickly and effectively use the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, to strike Russian ammunition depots and command posts.
Russia has adjusted, pulling back its logistics hubs outside the range of the HIMARS. A more advanced, longer-range missile, like the ATACMS, could hit those targets. But for now, weapons that could strike deep into Russia are off the table, seen as far too likely to provoke Mr. Putin. Though the United States has steadily opened up to providing Ukraine with more powerful weaponry over the course of the conflict, it has remained resolute on this one point.
American officials acknowledged that the true power of the 31 Abrams tanks the United States announced on Wednesday it would send Ukraine is that they will unlock more donations of German-made Leopard 2 tanks, as well as more artillery and infantry fighting vehicles.
The U.S. provision of the tanks will “spur the Germans and inspire the Poles” while demonstrating NATO unity, said one U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations. In addition to the 112 Leopards Germany will send, Poland has pledged 14 (along with hundreds of older tanks) and Canada will send four. Norway said it will send some of the tanks and Spain is considering a donation.
The new donations alone are unlikely to boost combat power enough to win the war for Ukraine, but officials and outside analysts say they will help substantially.
The tanks will punch through the trench lines and open a path for infantry in Bradley Fighting Vehicles to hold the reclaimed territory.
And the tanks send important signals to both Ukraine and Russia about continued American support. For Russia, the tanks demonstrate that the flow of arms from the West is growing, not waning. And for Ukraine it is a big morale boost, said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former American intelligence official now with the Center for a New American Security.
“It’s a vote of confidence that people are still invested in Ukraine retaking its territory rather than pushing Ukraine to negotiate,” she said.