After months of petitioning from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Germany and the U.S. announced on Wednesday, January 25, that they’d initiated sending advanced battle tanks to Kyiv. Zelenskyy had first asked for tanks more than half a year ago—300 of them. The number now on their way from Western allies is less than 20 percent of that. Germany’s Leopard 2s will take months to deliver, more tanks from other European allies could arrive in the months to follow, and American M1 Abramses might not see their way to Ukraine for a year. What difference could these weapons systems make to the outcome of the war—and why is the West delivering so few, so long after Ukraine asked for them?

Robert Hamilton is a research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, a retired colonel and 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army, and an analyst on conflict and security issues in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. It took a while, Hamilton says, for Ukraine’s allies to believe it could resist the Russian invasion for long enough to get complex weapons like tanks to them, let alone to train them up. If the Ukrainians couldn’t use these weapons effectively, after all, they’d not just get them destroyed but potentially let them fall into the Russians’ hands. Western confidence in the wisdom of arming Ukraine has since grown considerably, Hamilton says—but the practicalities, including the politics, of doing it have remained tricky.

Eve Valentine: NATO and Western countries had refused to send tanks for months. Why are they agreeing to now?

Robert Hamilton: At the outset of the war, there was a lot of concern across the West about the risk of escalation between Russia and Ukraine. Of course, Russia helped provoked that by labeling any assistance to Ukraine as escalatory and destabilizing.

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