Unfavorable weather and Russia’s fortified defenses may make Ukraine hesitant to send a series of Abrams tanks aided by the US to the front line.
Images appeared on social networks in early November showing Ukrainian soldiers holding the insignia of the National Guard’s rapid reaction brigade next to an M1A1 Abrams main tank painted blue and black. The vehicle was parked in a muddy area and was not in combat mode.
This is the first sign that the Ukrainian army began deploying Abrams tanks near the front line since receiving 31 units from the US in September. However, since then there has been no evidence that Abrams tanks are used in combat situations.
Western experts say that the current battlefield situation makes it impossible for the Ukrainian army to effectively use Abrams tanks and they may have to hide for many more months before starting to fight.
“The front line is stable, it is likely that Kyiv decides to keep a series of Abrams tanks as a reserve force,” said Mark Cancian, a former US Marine colonel and currently a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic Studies. and International (IISS) based in the US, commented.
Cancian believes that Ukraine can deploy Abrams tanks to units operating US-made M2A2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. “Winter conditions make the deployment of combined Abrams-Bradley units ineffective and logistically impossible,” he said.
Ukraine began a large-scale counterattack campaign in early June, with the goal of penetrating Russian defense lines in the summer, cutting off the land corridor connecting the Donbas region with the Crimean peninsula, and gaining a significant advantage on the battlefield.
However, Kyiv only won a very limited number of results and is facing more difficulties as the weather gradually turns bad. Heavy rains in late autumn made the ground muddy, hindering operations, especially with tanks and armored vehicles. The cold weather in winter also makes it difficult for logistics and basic military operations, such as loading artillery shells or pulling the trigger.
“The Ukrainian army seems to be waiting for the right opportunity to launch a new offensive campaign, most likely next spring,” said the former US colonel.
Kateryna Stepanenko, an expert on Russia at the US-based Institute for the Study of War, shares the same opinion that the muddy soil of late autumn and early winter significantly hinders the operation of heavy equipment such as tanks.
The frozen ground in winter can help heavy vehicles move more easily, but heavy snowfall still makes maneuvering difficult and makes Ukrainian assets easily detected by the naked eye or thermal imaging devices. Russian forces were less affected because they were entrenched in well-insulated and protected fortifications and trenches.
Sergej Sumlenny, founder of the Center for European Resilience Initiatives in Germany, said the US missed the time to deliver Abrams tanks.
“The delay in providing modern tanks to Ukraine gives Russian forces enough time to build solid defense lines. Western tanks and armor hardly have a chance to shine when faced with a trench system. , minefields and dragon tooth obstacles with a depth of many kilometers,” he said.
The current Russian line extends about 1,000 km, making it difficult for the 31 Abrams aided by the US to become a key element in Ukraine’s campaign.
Sumlenny mentioned the attack by the 47th Independent Mechanized Brigade and the 33rd Ukrainian Mechanized Brigade in Zaporizhzhia in June. In just one to two hours, they lost nearly 20% of their Bradley vehicles, 20 % of Leopard 2A6 tanks, and 50% of Leopard 2R minesweepers in Ukrainian military service. This is considered Kyiv’s disastrous opening match in the counterattack campaign.
“That was the only time the Ukrainian army mobilized Western armor in a frontal attack. They didn’t seem to want to repeat that disaster,” he said.