Counteroffensive: Western Tanks Fight Russians For First Time, One German Leopard Lost, Reports Claim

Leopard 2 Ukraine
Getty Images / Social Media Image Collage

Ukraine has sent Western tanks into battle with Russia for the first time as the counteroffensive appears to have started in earnest, with President Zelensky praising his troops for getting “results” amid heavy fighting.

The long-discussed Ukrainian counteroffensive appears to be underway, with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky using a video address to congratulate his fighters in Donetsk and Bakhmut. Per a translation in London’s The Times, he said: “There is very heavy fighting in Donetsk region… But there are results and I am grateful to those who achieved these results. Well done in Bakhmut. Step by step.”

Reports claim there is a major Ukrainian assault underway towards Tokmak, northeast of Melitopol. The town, per The Guardian, is a major rail junction on the line towards Russian-occupied Crimea and their Black Sea Fleet which is stationed there. As previously reported, Russia is extremely reliant on the railway network to reinforce and supply its military, and there have been attacks on the rail link to the Black Sea Fleet before.

A major development of the fighting in Ukraine in the past few days is the deployment, believed to be for the first time, of Western-supplied main battle tanks against Russian forces. While Ukraine has been training on these vehicles since last year and in some cases took delivery of large numbers of tanks months ago, they have been held back from the front lines until now.

While Ukraine has said it won’t confirm or deny the counteroffensive is happening for strategic reasons, Brigadier Ben Barry of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies told the paper the emergence of western tanks in-country was a clear indicator things were starting. He said: “A signature indicator would be large numbers of western armoured fighting vehicles including: Leopard and Challenger 2 tanks, Bradley and Marder infantry fighting vehicles and M113 APCs.

“Russian bloggers are now reporting Leopards and Bradleys attacking in Tokmak in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. If confirmed, it suggests at least one Ukrainian assault brigade has been committed… I’d comment that if Ukraine can rapidly break through a defensive belt or belts, it could get behind the Russian defences and unpick them”.

While those Russian bloggers have been claiming for days their armed forces have managed to destroy Western tanks in the field already — one fact-checked case appeared to show an air-strike on combine harvesters mistaken for tanks — some reports now state a donated main battle tank has in fact been lost in combat for the first time.

Video shared on Russian social media shows aerial combat footage allegedly taken 35 miles southeast of Zaporizhzhia in Southern Ukraine of a column of Ukrainian armour coming under fire, reports the Financial Times, noting “at least two German-made Leopard 2 tanks” and two U.S. made M113 APCs are visible. As stated by Forbes, the footage appears to confirm Russia has indeed destroyed a modern Western tank on the front lines, a Leopard 2which can be seen burning up.

Russia’s own account of the battle through their state propaganda outlet was typically boastful, claiming they’d destroyed three German-made Leopard 2s in one day, as well as at least 27 other tanks, ten armoured cars, and 350 soldiers. Russia claimed some of the tank losses were due to the Ukrainians driving through minefields, and others due to teams of “special operations forces” carrying anti-tank missiles.

Whatever the truth of the claims, it is certainly true that Leopard 2 tanks have been lost in combat before, embarrassingly in fights against the Islamic State in Syria by Turkey which is a major export customer for the vehicle. While that caused a serious knock of confidence to the German armaments industry that their top-line product was not as invincible as hoped, this week is the first time the tank has done what it was primarily designed to do, fight Russians.

It is not clear whether the Leopard 2 will prove vulnerable to Russian attack as this year’s counteroffensive ploughs on, or if this early loss is part of an acceptable rate of loss, or simply a matter of bad luck. There is also the question of other advanced Western tanks, the M1 Abrams and British Challenger 2, both products of the late Cold War and how they will fare in the European battlefields in confrontation with Russia, as they were originally built for.


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