A meeting between Ukraine’s allies on Friday to discuss providing more arms to the country will be their “last possible” opportunity to prepare Ukraine for fresh Russian attacks, according to our analyst Professor Michael Clarke.
The UK has committed to sending 14 Challenger 2 tanks, among a “possible 100” which could be provided by allied countries depending on the outcome of talks in Rammstein, Germany.
With a minimum of 10 weeks needed to train a tank crew, Professor Clarke said 20 January would be the last date to make a decision if the allies want to arm Ukraine before a renewed Russian offensive – expected early this year.
He said Challenger tanks are “infinitely superior” to their Russian opponents and would be able to take a shell from Moscow’s tanks without being affected, despite the Kremlin’s claim yesterday that they will “burn like the rest”.
Russia has been conducting so-called joint training exercises in Belarus with a view to stretch the Ukrainian forces, said Professor Clarke.
However, the border with Ukraine is marred by marshland which “nobody wants to drive a tank army over”, he said, limiting any Russian offensive to the same routes they travelled at the start of the invasion last year.
The analyst added that any invasion by Russian forces would meet a more prepared Ukrainian army, and Minsk remains very reluctant to get involved.
Over in the east of Ukraine, Moscow “looks as though” it has taken Soledar at the cost of 15,000 Wagner group soldiers who have either been wounded or killed, said Professor Clarke.
He predicted they will now attempt to surround Bakhmut from the north and south.
Ukraine “might struggle” to hold the city, but Russia will find it difficult to make any further gains in the Donbas, with the next strategically important cities in the Donbas – Sloviansk and Kramatorsk – now a Ukrainian “fortress”.
Russia also faces a difficult battle to hold Kreminna, according the professor.
“The Russians are in trouble in Kreminna, and if they lose Kreminna they’re in big trouble because Ukraine will begin to circle around behind them.”