Putin's Stockpile of Tanks Faces Major Hurdle as Abrams, Leopards Head East

Ukraine is expected to begin receiving deliveries of Western-made tanks in the coming months after the U.S., U.K. and Germany decided to step up their support for the country amid its war with Russia.

The U.S. and Germany announced this week that they would be sending highly coveted M1 Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Poland is also sending the Leopard 2 combat vehicles, while the U.K. announced this month that Challenger 2 tanks would be provided to Ukraine. Additional countries have committed to or at least expressed openness to delivering even more tanks to Ukraine.

In theory, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a stockpile large enough that it should allow him to deploy additional tanks to the battlefield as Ukraine's own tank supplies are bolstered by the West. The Military Balance 2021 database said that Russian storage facilities had around 10,200 tanks, The Kyiv Independent reported in September 2022. Newsweek was not able to independently verify the database figure and reached out to Russia's Defense Ministry for confirmation.

But Putin's regime would be faced with several major challenges if it actually looked to deploy tanks from his stockpile to Ukraine, according to experts.

Ukraine Tanks
A Leopard 2A6 tank of the German armed forces participates in the NATO Iron Wolf military exercises on October 27, 2022, in Pabrade, Lithuania. In the inset, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking the anniversary of the Siege of Leningrad, on January 18, 2023, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Ukraine is expected to begin receiving deliveries of Western-made tanks from the U.S., U.K. and Germany in support of its war efforts against Russia. Sean Gallup/Getty Images; Contributor/Getty Images

Dan Soller, former U.S. Army intelligence colonel, told Newsweek that any tanks Russia does have in storage need trained crews to operate them. Assuming that all of Russia's estimated 10,000 tanks are operational—and they likely aren't—tens of thousands of personnel could be required to operate them, since each tank requires several people.

Soller said that he suspects many Russian tanks in storage haven't been "maintained effectively," and that some are used for spare parts. He believes that the "overwhelming majority" of them are likely not even operational.

David Silbey, associate professor of history at Cornell University and director of teaching and learning at Cornell in Washington, told Newsweek that it's "very unclear" how many tanks Russia can pull out of its stockpile and put back into action in Ukraine. He also said that the Russian tanks in storage have likely not been maintained very well, so there's a "pretty strong indication that they're not in great shape."

"It's not like a vending machine where you put in your money and get a working T-72," Silbey said, referring to a type of Russian tank.

Who Is Delivering Tanks to Ukraine?
Who Is Delivering Tanks to Ukraine? Statista

This chart, provided by Statista, shows the number of tanks confirmed for initial delivery to Ukraine as of January 27, 2023.

On top of any issues with getting enough trained crews to operate the tanks, the tanks themselves would have to be made operational again. So while Russia's estimated stockpile could seem daunting to Ukrainians, "I can't imagine that they could get those on the battlefield all that quickly," Silbey said.

The Leopard 2 and Challenger 2 tanks are predicted to begin arriving in Ukraine in the coming weeks or months, while the Abrams deliveries are expected to take longer.

Once Ukraine does deploy the tanks on the battlefield, the impact they will have in the war depends on how effectively they are put to use alongside other elements like artillery, other armored fighting vehicles, missiles, intelligence and communications.

"The numbers are potentially the least important aspect of this," Soller said. "What is most important is the orchestration. Think of it as a symphony, of bringing all the different parts of combined arms maneuver together to create intended effects on the battlefield."