Breaking ranks, Macron’s gift of tanks to Ukraine puts Western alliance under pressure to give Zelensky what he needs to end the war

January 5, 2023, 5:09 PM UTC
The six-wheeled French AMX-10 RC light tank, pictured here in a military exercise with German armored forces, will soon be in the service of Ukraine after French President Emmanuel Macron reached a deal with Volodymyr Zelensky.
Joern Haufe—Getty Images

Christmas may have come early for Volodymyr Zelensky this year. 

On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron granted his Ukrainian counterpart’s wish with the promise of modern AMX-10 RC wheeled tanks to drive Russian invaders off his soil.

Macron, Europe’s de facto leader, broke ranks with his Western allies and in doing so has piled pressure on his closest strategic partner, Germany.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been busy swatting away repeated calls to deliver German-built Leopard 2 battle tanks to Kyiv to help bring a swifter end to the war.

“This is the first time the Armed Forces of Ukraine have been provided with Western-made tanks.” France’s Elysee Palace said on Wednesday.

What is the AMX-10 RC?

Built by France’s Giat and in service since 1981, the AMX-10 RC is equipped with a 105-mm bore main turret gun. Since it sits upon wheels rather than traditional tracks like heavier tanks, its mobility makes it better suited for reconnaissance missions, but it can provide effective fire support on the battlefield.  

According to Reuters, French officials did not give any details about the volume or timing of the planned shipments, but added talks would continue regarding the potential delivery of other vehicle types.

Ukraine, which traditionally celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7, along with the rest of the Eastern Orthodox church, has been clamoring for months to get its hands on the West’s latest battle tanks to counter the armored superiority of Russia’s T-72 columns

With the war swiftly approaching its first anniversary on Feb. 24 and no end in sight, France’s gift of AMX-10 RC combat tanks reopens the debate in Europe over the Leopard.

If this prompts Berlin to follow with its own, or even simply green-light others’ doing so, it could be the most meaningful development in the war since Ukraine retook in November the city of Kherson, the sole regional capital to fall into Russian hands.

Praise for Macron

“Strong leadership by Emmanuel Macron,” praised Guy Verhofstadt, Belgium’s former veteran prime minister currently serving in the European Parliament, on Wednesday. “Now there is nowhere for the German government to hide.”

Russia’s Soviet-designed T-72s would be little match for the much more modern, third-generation tanks built by Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. Export laws grant Berlin a veto, however, anytime a Western ally such as Lithuania wants to donate one from its own armory.

“The best type of weapons that can be supplied now are Western top battle tanks, such as the German Leopard or the American Abrams,” said Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis last month. 

Last year, the CEO of manufacturer Rheinmetall even offered to refurbish from its own reserves 80 Leopards, hailed by leading Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung on Thursday as “the tank that can shorten the war.”

Germany’s dithering chancellor has dug himself in, claiming no other Western ally is willing to send modern Western battle tanks.

Yet suffering from poor polling and an image of an indecisive leader afraid of his own shadow, Scholz now has to bail out defense minister Christine Lambrecht over an embarrassing New Year’s faux pas

Between the political capital he now needs to spend to ward off demands for her resignation and the unfortunate position Macron put him in through his brash and seemingly uncoordinated expansion of military aid, Scholz may need to go on the attack himself.

In that case, the German chancellor could have his own Christmas gift of tanks for Ukraine’s forces.

More far-fetched things have been known to happen, and it wouldn’t be the first time he’s caved to pressure: In April he flip-flopped and approved the delivery of 50 Gepard armored anti-aircraft vehicles.

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