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German tanks pave way to Eastern Europe

12.11.2014 12:14

It seems that the period of European armies getting rid of armored vehicles, which started after the breakup of the USSR, has come to its end. At least, the leading German tank manufacturer announced a sharp increase of the demand for its production amid the crisis in Ukraine. The plans to buy armored vehicles are quite surprising: why would the EU need this very specific and, moreover, offense weapon?

Frank Haun, Chief Executive Officer of Germany's Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), stated that the demand for armored vehicles from a number of European countries increased this year. Handelsblatt quoted Haun as saying: "The demand has risen significantly in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia." He pointed out that this trend is related to the Ukrainian crisis. The head of KMW, which produces Leopard 2 tanks, refused to give the details.

However, there haven't been official reports of any negotiations between Eastern European partners and German manufacturers recently. Currently, Leopards in Europe are used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

After the Cold War the tank park of European armies significantly reduced. In 1990, at the time of the signing of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the armies of NATO countries in Europe had more than 24 thousand tanks. In 2011, there were already more than half less tanks - about 11 thousand. And the real reductions were even more large-scale given that the Warsaw Treaty Organization existing in 1990 had more than 30 thousand tanks deployed in Europe, and the entire tank park of Soviet production, owned by Eastern European countries, then appeared at the disposal of NATO after the relevant countries joined the alliance.

The only country in Eastern Europe which buys German tanks at the moment is Poland. In 2002, 128 tanks Leopard-2A4 produced in the mid-80s were transferred to it. Last year, Poland signed a contract for the purchase of 105 tanks Leopard-2A5 and 14 Leopard-2A4; the deliveries must be made this and next year.

Changing its tank park, Poland faced some problems. Firstly, the German tanks have no automatic loader and there are not three, like in the Soviet and Russian machines, but four crew members, and this requires changes in staffing of tank units and combat training system. And secondly, the tanks from the other manufacturer require a new system of maintenance, repair and supply.

In September, the newly appointed CEO of the Ukrainian Malyshev factory Nikolai Belov gave an interview in which, besides the statements peculiar to Ukrainian patriots about the superiority of Ukrainian tanks over the Russian ones, he raised the Polish problem: "Poland has already burned its fingers. They purchased the Leopards and were very proud of it. But routine maintenance, oil, quality fuel, spare parts - everything resulted in higher costs. And these Leopards are not really used. As a result, they perform all the military exercises, all their combat tasks on their T-72s, which they call RT-91 "Tvardy," - he said commenting on the proposals to purchase, or rather to ask the "European partners" to give some tanks for free.

According to the former deputy head of the Main Directorate of International Military Cooperation of the Russian Defense Ministry reserve Lieutenant General Yevgeny Buzhinsky, what it primarily involves is military lobby in Eastern European countries that use the Ukrainian crisis to achieve an increase in appropriations.

"Any possibility to heat up the situation and force the government to fork out is used, of course. It's like "a Russian submarine" in Swedish territorial waters. They went into hysterics a bit while the budget was being discussed, and they probably got additional money for that. First a threat is invented, then money are extracted under the threat and orders are placed. Where the lobbyists are more effective there they get more money. The weapons and equipment, that are purchased, are not always really needed."

Lt. Gen. Buzhinskiy expresses his bewilderment why Eastern European and Scandinavian countries' military need to lobby for purchasing tanks.

"Threats of a large-scale fighting using tanks in Europe is, of course, exotic for me it, as well as for any sane military. If they want to buy tanks - let them buy. I just do not know why. For their armies need more precision weapons, aviation," he said, "Tanks are needed to conquer a territory. Of course, you can bomb the country into dust, and the Americans know how to do it. But then you have to hold the territory. To do so, you'll have to conduct ground operations under the protection of armor. But what Eastern European countries are going to conquer?"

Recall that in July it became known about NATO plans to transfer old Soviet equipment to Ukraine from the inventory of Eastern European countries that once were part of the Warsaw Pact and supply them with US products instead.

"Due to the malfunction of most Ukrainian weapons and military equipment, NATO decided to transfer them from Eastern European countries," wrote Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in his Twitter then, "The question is weapons of Soviet manufacture. In its turn, the US will compensate these "losses" of NATO new member countries by its supplies. The US military industrial complex is happy."

According to the First Vice-President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems Konstantin Sivkov, Eastern European countries prefer German armored products to American ones for several reasons. "Firstly, repair and productive base is close," he said, "In addition, American tanks use gas turbine engines. In dusty and wooded areas their use is difficult because of atmosphere conditions. And besides, they have high fuel consumption. This forced European countries to focus on Germany. The UK, France, and partly Italy have their own machinery, but the rest countries buy Leopards."

He noted that the Ukrainian crisis caused an increase in defense spending in Europe. "Ukrainian events mark the transition of the system of relations in Europe to a qualitatively new level. Previously it was a system based on the principles of refraining from the use of military force including the so-called soft power - the organization of revolutions. The system was built to prevent affecting the vital interests of the major players. It was considered impossible to affect the interests of Russia, invade in its sphere of influence. And if Russia took a conciliatory stance toward the United States before, these factors have changed now, and a new wave of confrontation between NATO and Russia has already begun. Accordingly, there are problems of ensuring that confrontation, i.e. groups of forces are built up."

On the other hand, NATO committed itself to strengthening its military might. Accordingly, it is necessary to replenish the tank park," believes Sivkov.

Deputy Director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, Konstantin Makiyenko recalls that the demand for German tanks in Poland intensified even before the Ukrainian events. "This is one of the few countries in Eastern Europe which has a serious rearmament program," - he said, "They buy Western weapons, but do not dispose of Eastern ones. In particular, Poland is the largest MiG-29 operator after India."

Note that in October this year, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Lyayen and her Polish counterpart Tomas Semonyak signed an agreement in Berlin on bilateral cooperation in the defense sector. It provides for joint military trainings and closer connections between the fighting forces of Germany and Poland.

At a meeting of the Bundeswehr command staff, Ursula von der Lyayen in the presence of Semonyak urged to upgrade their own capabilities of deterrence and increase the country's military budget. "We are talking about the need to modernize our own deterrence capabilities," she said.

According to her, the conflict in Ukraine showed that Russia is "trying to exercise power politics like in the XIX century" and to solve problems by military means where it is unable to solve them. According to von der Lyayen, the normalization of the situation will not happen in the near future, so the German authorities need to increase the defense budget to modernize the Bundeswehr. "German Armed Forces must be able to fulfill its obligations within NATO," said the Minister.

And Semonyak again called for strengthening the presence of the alliance in Eastern Europe. "Nobody in Poland wants to return to the days of the Cold War, no one wants confrontation with Russia, but we are convinced that there is nothing more provocative than weakness and submission," he said suggesting close cooperation between the armed forces of both countries.

Thus, Poland and other Eastern European countries are trying to strengthen their armies amid the Ukrainian crisis, and nowadays we can see an increase in the demand for German tanks in these countries. But once the new tank park is produced and delivered to them, it's unclear how it will be used. This offense weapon near the border with Russia can become very destabilizing for the whole region, and Russia will obviously be forced to take its measures to ensure the security.