How the Kremlin Is Reacting to Western Tanks Being Sent to Ukraine

The Kremlin has condemned the West for providing Kyiv's forces with tanks, but the Russian information space is playing down the significance that the armored vehicles could have on Vladimir Putin's invasion.

Moscow's envoy to Berlin, Sergey Nechayev, denounced as "extremely dangerous" Berlin's move to send 14 Leopard 2A6 tanks to Ukraine, a decision that will pave the way for other European countries to do the same.

This was followed by President Joe Biden announcing that the U.S. would provide 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks. Konstantin Gavrilov, who heads Russia's delegation at the OSCE Forum on Military Security and Arms Control, called on the West to prevent "nuclear provocations" with the Leopards.

However, domestic messaging has played down the vehicles' threats, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the plan was "a failure in terms of technological aspects," as well as "a clear overestimation of the potential that this will add to the Armed Forces of Ukraine," state news agency Tass reported.

 Leopard 2A7 main battle tank
The Leopard 2A7 tank during German armed forces military exercises at the Bundeswehr training grounds near Bergen in 2016. The Kremlin has condemned Berlin for providing Ukraine with the tanks. Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Meanwhile, some Russian military bloggers (milbloggers) have tried to reassure their domestic audiences by saying previous Western systems like HIMARS posed more of a threat, having previously framed the defensive Patriot missile systems as a serious escalation.

The fact that the tank provision wasn't framed as escalatory "suggests that the Kremlin and the Russian information space continue to selectively choose which systems to frame as an escalation," the ISW said on Wednesday.

This showed that the Kremlin and milbloggers are more focused on "calming potential fears of the impact of Western commitments to supply Ukraine with tanks than with feeding the escalation narrative in the West," the U.S. think tank added.

Russian newspapers have also compared Berlin's decision to supply the tanks with the World War Two conflict fighting Nazi aggression.

One headline in the mass circulation tabloid Moskovskiy Komsomolets said: "German tanks are again moving across on Russian soil," in a piece that said "these supplies will not save Ukraine."

An article in the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a publication that reflects Kremlin thinking, suggested that Russian forces could handle the tanks.

Yan Gagin, a military adviser to the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic in Ukraine, said the tanks: "will not be able to fight on their own, without proper cover" and that "we have enough weapons" such as artillery shells, drones and grenade launchers to target the vehicles.

In a Twitter thread on Thursday, military analyst Rob Lee said that NATO tanks "are not a silver bullet" and that if the alliance wants to help Kyiv retake all of its territory, it will need to give other systems like fighters and ATACMS "to improve Ukraine's combined arms capabilities even more."

"Tanks will undoubtedly play a key role in Ukraine's future offensives as in Kharkiv and Kherson," he wrote. "The new tanks will increase Kyiv's chances for success but not guarantee it."

Meanwhile, in emailed comments to Newsweek, Quincy Institute Director of Grand Strategy George Beebe, who was director of Russia analysis at the CIA, said that the decision by the U.S. and Germany was driven as much by politics as military strategy.

"Washington and Berlin's compromise is aimed at preventing a rift in the NATO alliance," which would have encouraged Moscow to believe it could win by exhausting the West's will to support Ukraine.

Beebe said the pressure Berlin faced to provide the tanks shows the divide over how to end the war, with Germany and France doubting that Ukraine can win "unconditionally," while the risk of escalation into a direct Russia-NATO are "significant."

"The provision of Abrams tanks will necessitate escalating U.S. involvement on the ground," he said, as Americans within Ukraine or just over its borders will need to maintain the system.

"Some Biden administration officials believe Ukraine must show it can threaten Crimea in order to force Russia to the negotiating table," he said, "a tactic which risks precipitating an escalatory reaction from Russia."