Ukrainian soldiers ride a tank in Trostsyanets, Ukraine, in March...

Ukrainian soldiers ride a tank in Trostsyanets, Ukraine, in March 2022. Ukrainian forces desperately need more tanks to advance. Credit: AP/Efrem Lukatsky

In the past few days, public discourse about the Russia/Ukraine war has mostly revolved around one word: Tanks. Germany is inching closer to approving the supply to Ukraine of its modern Leopard-2 tanks; the United States is expected to announce Wednesday that it will greenlight the delivery of the M1 Abrams, the principal battle tank for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps since 1980. The often-contentious debate on the tanks, frustrating to Kyiv and its supporters, also reflects larger concerns about the escalation of hostilities between Russia and NATO — and a possible nuclear threat. But while these concerns are understandable, we are at a point when the West must make a full commitment to Ukraine’s defense.

Other hardware in the aid packages approved by the U.S. and European countries — from missiles and missile launchers to armored infantry vehicles — are also important. But the consensus is that the planned Ukrainian offensive desperately needs more tanks to replenish its Soviet-era fleet in order to advance.

Ukraine critics bristle at Kyiv’s “shopping lists.” But these aren’t requests for fancy toys to satisfy the Ukrainian leadership’s egos. The country is fighting off a war of aggression waged by an enemy with a much larger combat-age population and superior firepower — an enemy that bombs cities, slaughters civilians, and is fairly blatant about the fact that its bizarre rhetoric of “denazification” is a transparent cover for wanting to strip Ukraine of its sovereignty.

Since last August, the Ukrainian armed forces, boosted by weapons deliveries that included powerful missile launchers and medium-range high-precision rockets, have made impressive gains in pushing back Russian troops and reclaiming captured territory, including the city of Kherson.

More recently, however, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has largely stalled — partly because of the weather but also because of a shortage of offensive weapons — and the Russians have been trying to shift the momentum back in their favor with the help of newly mobilized soldiers and recruited convicts who are treated as expendable. Despite massive losses, they have taken the small town of Soledar and may be on the verge of encircling nearby Bakhmut, which they have been trying to capture for several months. While neither town has much strategic value, morale matters.

While talk of Leopard-2 tanks for Ukraine began months ago, Germany has not only declined to supply them but refused to approve the delivery of these machines to Ukraine by Poland, the Czech Republic and other countries (German law requires such approval for third-country re-export of its military technology to combat zones). The speculation is that the German government is reluctant — given World War II history — to see German tanks used against Russian troops. But those tanks would be used in defense of Ukraine, which was also a victim of German aggression in the 1940s.

As for fear of nuclear escalation, the export of tanks still does not involve putting NATO troops into direct conflict with Russia. The Kremlin’s nuclear bluster, with its underlying message that a power with a large nuclear arsenal can dictate its will to the world, cannot be allowed to succeed.

No sane person in the West wants more death and destruction in Ukraine. But the best way to stop the death and destruction is to enable the Ukrainians to retake their territory and expel the invaders as quickly and efficiently as possible. They must get the means to do it.

Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a cultural studies fellow at the Cato Institute, are her own.