NATO Czechia Transfers Tanks to Ukraine. Czechia & Slovakia Mulling Repairing Ukrainian Tanks
Source: Wall Street Journal
The Czech Republic has been sending old Soviet-era tanks into Ukraine, providing badly needed heavy weapons to outgunned Ukrainian troops that are battling a much better-equipped Russian invasion force.
The efforts, described by three Czech and Slovak officials, mark the first time a foreign country has provided tanks to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began Feb. 24. In a potentially even more important development, both the Czech Republic and neighboring Slovakia, which shares a border with Ukraine, are considering opening their military industrial installations to repair and refit damaged Ukrainian military equipment.
— Tony (@Cyberspec1) April 5, 2022
Russia’s campaign of missile strikes across Ukraine has targeted in particular the country’s defense industry, destroying facilities where such repairs and refitting could take place—something that makes the Czech and Slovak cooperation particularly valuable.
Western governments initially expected Kyiv to fall within a few days, and equipped the Ukrainian military mostly with shoulder-fired missiles such as NLAW, Javelin and Stinger that could be used by small insurgent units.
A donor’s conference of some 35 nations, convened by the U.K. in London last week, agreed to supply Ukraine with long-range artillery, anti-aircraft systems and infantry fighting vehicles, but stopped short of endorsing the transfer of tanks.
So far, the Czech Republic has sent slightly more than a dozen modernized, Soviet-designed T-72M tanks, said Czech defense ministry officials. The Central European country has also sent howitzer artillery pieces and BMP-1 amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, officials said.
Die ersten Panzer (T-72M) und Schützenpanzer (BMP-1) aus der EU sind ENDLICH auf dem Weg in die Ukraine.
Heute wurden sie in Tschechien verladen. pic.twitter.com/DI6vqH2hWc
— Julian Röpcke🇺🇦 (@JulianRoepcke) April 5, 2022
These weapons supplies were funded by the Czech government, and private Czech donors who have chipped in to a government-backed crowdsourced fundraising campaign to arm Ukraine. Officials on NATO’s eastern flank generally worry that Western weapons and ammunition supply fall far short of what Ukraine needs considering the intensity of the war. In one day, Ukraine uses about as much weaponry as it receives in a week, a senior Polish official said.
NATO countries are looking to supply additional and more-advanced weapons systems, such as air-defense systems and U.S. Javelin antitank weapons, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday. He said allies are already supplying Kyiv with fuel, ammunition, helmets, protective gear and medical supplies. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization expects Russian troops to make a big push in Ukraine’s southeast in coming weeks and wants to quickly resupply Kyiv’s troops, Mr. Stoltenberg said.
Central European governments, with the notable exception of Hungary, are broadly eager to help rearm Ukraine, but some officials are nervous about depleting their own stockpiles of weapons and ammunition.
Several of those governments are turning to the Biden administration for assurances that the U.S. will help replace equipment they are donating to Ukraine. Czech supplies were reduced in 2014, when back to back explosions destroyed two warehouses holding more than 150 tons of ammunition. The government later blamed the blast on two agents from Russia’s military intelligence service.
“Much more, several times more, can be done if we join forces with other allies,” said Czech Deputy Defense Minister Tomáš Kopečný.
Slovenia, avowedly supportive of Kyiv, has been sending available military equipment to Ukraine from the beginning of the Russian aggression, its Prime Minister Janez Jansa told the Journal, to a point where it has run through its own stockpiles.
“If France, Germany or U.S. sent the same share per capita, Ukraine is already liberated,” he said. “Unfortunately, our reserves are depleted and now we try to replace equipment… with new delivery from U.S.,” he said. “Unfortunately, all procedures were slow, but [have] accelerated somehow after Bucha massacre.”
Moscow has warned that it considers arms shipments legitimate targets. So far, however, it hasn’t been able to choke off the daily military shipments to Ukraine from Poland, Romania or Slovakia. Russia’s air force, so far, also hasn’t demonstrated the capacity to disrupt military convoys between the border and front-line staging areas.
One road has been effectively closed off to NATO weapon shipments, however: the route through Hungary, whose Prime Minister
Viktor Orban was re-elected Sunday after vowing to block NATO from using his country to transport weapons to Ukraine.
Australia said this week it is flying Bushmaster armored vehicles to Europe for delivery to Ukraine, with the first four already painted in Ukrainian colors.
Beyond tanks, Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, are weighing the risks of letting Ukraine bring war-damaged equipment into their countries for repairs. Slovakia, which has no tanks available to give, has discussed the issue, a senior Slovak official said.
Those deliberations are part of a realization that Russia’s war with Ukraine could drag on for months if not longer—and that, in a war of attrition, Russia’s overwhelming advantage in equipment could tilt the scales in Moscow’s favor.
“If the war is going to get longer and longer, the war equipment that is being damaged needs to get serviced,” said a Czech defense ministry official. “Ukrainian repair houses are 100% busy, and they are asking other nearby allies to help them with repairs.”