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PARIS — France will deliver “light” battle tanks to Ukraine, President Emmanuel Macron’s office announced Wednesday, adding that France would be the first country to send such Western-designed armored fighting vehicles to the war.
The Elysée said after a phone call between Macron and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy that France will send AMX-10 RC armored fighting vehicles, which Paris has been gradually replacing with new Jaguar battle tanks.
Several countries have already sent Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine. Both France and Germany have been under pressure to supply tanks to Ukraine, but had refused Kyiv’s requests, until now.
An adviser to France’s Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu said Wednesday’s decision was made to help Ukraine prepare for “a possible Russian offensive” in the spring.
“Ukraine is at a tipping point now at the frontline … Russia is trying to terrorize the population with its drone attacks that sometimes reach as far as Kyiv, but Ukraine could also start a counter-offensive,” he said.
Zelenskyy thanked Macron on Twitter, saying the two leaders had “a long and detailed conversation” and that the French president’s “leadership brings our victory closer.”
However, Ukraine’s requests for more arms from allies have still not been fully satisfied: In December, Kyiv formally asked for another model of tank, the Leclerc — France’s main battle tank — rather than AMX-10 vehicles, which are being phased out. The AMX-10 is lighter, less protected and has a shorter range than the Leclerc.
However the delivery of French armoured vehicles, though not fully-fledged battle tanks, might encourage others to follow suit, argued retired French colonel and military consultant Michel Goya.
“We’ve made a gesture … we can now boast that we were the first to send tanks, even though they are not the same class as the battle tanks used in Ukraine. But the move can also have an incitement effect on others,” said Goya.
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz faced renewed calls to send Leopard-2 tanks to Ukraine.
“The argument constantly advanced by the chancellery that Germany must not go it alone is absolutely out of date,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, who heads Germany’s parliamentary defence committee in an interview with AFP.
“France is once again taking on the role that was expected of Germany, and is going ahead alone,” she said.
Macron’s government did not specify how many vehicles it will send. The French and Ukrainian defense ministries are expected to discuss the details of the equipment delivery soon.
For retired general Jérôme Pellistrandi, director of National Defense magazine, the rate of replacement of the AMX-10s by new generation vehicles within the French army gives an indication of the potential scale of the supplies.
“The land forces have received 38 Jaguar vehicles, that means that the same number of AMX-10s have been removed from service, so thirty thereabouts should be available to be transferred to Ukraine,” Pellistrandi said.
Built for Soviet times
The AMX-10 is a light, highly mobile, armoured vehicle equipped with a 105mm cannon. It has been used in reconnaissance missions for the French army and was deployed as recently as the Barkhane mission in Africa, which formally ended in November.
“It’s a vehicle that was designed in the 70s and 80s to track the advance of Soviet armed land forces. The paradox is that it will be used today for the purpose it was built for … because the Russians have shown their doctrine hasn’t shifted much since the Soviet times,” Pellistrandi said.
The light tanks are useful in operations and can be deployed ahead of Ukrainian battle tanks in the event of a renewed Russian offensive in the spring, according to Pellistrandi.
However, Goya argued that the delivery of several dozen French AMX-10s to the warzone is unlikely to change the dynamic on the Ukrainian battlefield.
“It can help, but in terms of numbers it’s not much given that there are hundreds of tanks and thousands of armoured vehicles in Ukraine. The Ukrainians will use them well, but they don’t fire as far as Russian tanks,” he said.
It’s likely that the Ukrainians will keep up the pressure on France and Germany to send battle tanks, alongside other high tech military equipment. But according to a French Armed Forces ministry adviser, the upkeep of France’s defense capacities has remained “a red line” for Macron, which limits the scope for deliveries.