A US M1 Abrams tank
© SputnikA US M1 Abrams tank.
Thirty-one M1 Abrams tanks were delivered to Ukraine in September/October 2023 only to effectively disappear from the news for about four months. Now with the reported destruction of the fourth M1 Abrams tank in a span of 12 days, they are back in the news. And the fact that they are back in the news is a sign of how desperate things are for Ukraine.

There are a number of plausible reasons that Ukraine did not deploy the Abrams and their freshly trained crews to the frontlines until just recently, and none of them are mutually exclusive.

First, while a properly supported M1 Abrams is very effective, it is highly maintenance intensive and guzzles gas. So before they could be used at all effectively, the proper support infrastructure and logistics needed to be in place. Also, by the time the Abrams could be properly supported by Ukraine, it was facing heavily fortified lines that included tank traps, trenches, tank-killing drones, massed artillery fires, and minefields that have proved devastating to Ukraine's other tanks. And with the failure of Ukraine's counteroffensive, it made sense to keep the gas-hungry and maintenance-intensive Abrams in reserve for defensive operations when Russia inevitably began its own offensive operations.

All of the above reasons are legitimate, but arguably the biggest reason may be that it was believed by Ukraine and the Biden administration that the propaganda value Russia would reap from their destruction was far greater than any value they would bring to Ukraine in uselessly throwing them against the fierce and devastatingly effective defenses of the Surovikin Line.

That Russia recognized the propaganda value of destroying Western "wonder weapons" is demonstrated by its creation of tank-killer groups (TKGs) whose focus is destroying or capturing any modern armor provided to Kyiv by the United States and its NATO allies.

To encourage the TKGs, Russian businesses and officials reportedly offered cash bounties for the destruction of Western military equipment in Ukraine. Aleksandr Osipov, governor of Russia's Zabaikalsky region, reportedly signed an order in January 2023 promising local soldiers 3 million rubles ($37,000) for capturing an operational Leopard 2 tank, or 1 million rubles ($12,000) for destroying one. Fores, a Russian chemical manufacturing company, issued a statement saying that "Fores will pay 5 million rubles [$70,700] for the first trophy. The payment for every next one [Leopard 2 or Abrams] ... will be 500,000 rubles [$7,070]."

With Russians paying special attention to the Abrams, it is not hard to imagine that Ukraine and the Biden administration quickly agreed that rushing the "game-changing" Abrams into lethal environs to become propaganda fodder was not the favored course of action.

However, with the devastating losses in men and materiel suffered by Ukraine, Ukraine is running low on everything, including ammunition, men, morale — and tanks. And with Russia having shifted from conservation of forces operations to limited offensive operations, denying fodder for Russia propaganda has taken a back seat to battlefield realities, and Ukraine is desperately throwing everything it has into defensive operations to slow down Russian advances. And that everything includes the 31 Abrams.

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