History | Design & Technology

Massive tank battle to decide Ukraine’s fate

A Russian tank T-72B3

Will Putin’s hubris be his doom? As Russia prepares a final showdown in time for a grand victory parade in Moscow on 9 May, some say Ukraine’s army could be the surprise winner. The tank commander rubbed his hands. After heavy fighting, the enemy had been forced to retreat. “Forward!” he ordered. But the tank did not move: it was stuck in the mud. This is what happened to many German tanks that invaded Russia in 1941. Ukrainians hope the same thing will happen to Russian tanks. The invaders are sending thousands of extra troops to the Donbas region. They will fight in Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) formed around tanks. According to one expert, “BTGs are a way of creating a fighting unit with lots of punch. They’re designed to attack quickly with lots of firepower.” But the tanks have very few soldiers to protect them. “That makes the Russian army like a boxer who has a great right hook and a glass jaw." Russia started with around 2,700 tanks, but has lost between 460 and 680. Half of these have been destroyed by drones and anti-tank missiles such as the NLAW. But many others have been lost by bad driving. “Some have been driven off bridges,” says Nick Reynolds, an expert from the Royal United Services Institute. “Others have been driven into ditches so that the tracks have come off.” Others still have just run out of fuel – or got stuck in the mud. According to Britain’s armed forces minister, James Heappey, President Putin timed his invasion badly: “The mud of Ukraine in the springtime brought the Nazis to a standstill in Operation Barbarossa, and Putin’s desire to have a 9 May victory parade through Moscow is just characteristic of the hubris and utter disregard for loss of Russian life that he’s shown so far.” To avoid the mud the tanks will have to stay on roads: “What we’ll see therefore is highly canalised Russian columns that, as we saw north of Kyiv, present the Ukrainians with pretty easy pickings.” Will Putin’s hubris be his doom? Tanking up Yes: He believes that he should have a place in history like Russia’s World War Two leader, Stalin. His arrogance makes him reluctant to take advice, which is why his forces have done so badly in Ukraine. No: Even if the war in Ukraine is a complete disaster for Russia, Putin’s position is secure. He has eliminated his rivals with such ruthlessness that nobody will dare to challenge him.    Or... Putin is guilty not of hubris but of making a simple mistake. He underestimated the bravery and determination of the Ukrainians, but many people in the West have been surprised by them too. KeywordsGlass jaw - A weakness making someone vulnerable to a knockout punch.

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