Tanks to Ukraine: different languages, different view.
The decision by Germany to give offensive tanks to Ukraine has prompted many to say that a new phase of the conflict has started.
When I say ‘many’, though, I really mean, at least for me, mostly anglophone sources. I thought it was worth seeing what sort of unanimity or lack of it one sees if one looks at other languages. Accordingly, I had a look, going roughly and incompletely south-east=>north-west across Europe and into China, stopping at Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Serbia, Norway, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and China. In each case I searched within the domain of the most popular (or most easy to find) newspaper and looked for the first non-immediately-fact-stating discussion of tanks.
Why those languages? Because I ex post thought there might be something interesting in their coverage and/or I can read them. Hardly a good methodology, I realize, and one which meant I overlooked all Indian, all African, and all Middle Eastern sources — so, I overlooked quite a lot! Nevertheless, I think the exercise was mildly interesting, so let’s take a look. (Another notable omission is South America which is linguistically accessible but which I didn’t have time for.)
All translations below are google translate.
Spain, El Pais
If these steps [giving tanks; this was written just before the decision was finalized] are formalized, it would be a transcendental development in the war, not only in the military field. Also in the political, with a very hard message of Western union and determination for the Kremlin.
Why? The tanks in question are better than the Soviet-era ones Ukraine has had and
this injection of forces would undoubtedly change the balance on the ground significantly. Naturally, its effects in battle cannot be accurately predicted, but it is reasonable to think that Ukraine’s war position would be substantially improved by the delivery of hundreds of Western tanks.
[when it comes to] politics, the importance is not minor. An agreement on this matter by Ukraine’s Western allies would be a strong new message to the Kremlin…It’s a demonstration of unity and commitment.
A pretty positive view, then, about what the tanks could do for Ukraine.
France, Le Monde
Le Monde seems less optimistic (although I admit to uncertainty as its paywall is difficult to scale). One article asks whether the deliveries of new tanks might be decisive and seems to imply an answer in the negative by solely pointing out the problems — to do with delivery, training, maintenance. It also asks why why the Ukrainian allies dawdled so long, which was because:
they fear that Moscow will consider the delivery of such powerful devices as a direct involvement on their part.
The intensification of Russian bombardments in civilian areas and the prospect of a long war if no additional aid is brought to Ukraine have finally convinced a number of them to take the plunge.
So, less optimism from France and more floating of reason to be concerned, when compared to Spain.
Italy, Corriere Della Sera
Italy has a different perspective. In an article titled ‘Why the Leopard and Abrams tanks aren’t enough for Ukraine’, the problems with the tanks mentioned above are mentioned, as is the reason for hesitancy. It’s fear of poking the bear that explains why
why Biden continues to force Ukrainians to defend themselves with one arm tied behind their back, for example by denying them adequate missiles to hit the launch bases from which Russian missiles depart
But this is wrong thinking — anything the west does will be seen as aggression:
Any form of Western aid to Ukraine confirms the theory for Moscow’s propaganda. Tanks don’t change anything, Putin has already accused NATO a hundred times of fighting directly against Russia.
And so in for a penny, in for a pound — if anything will be taken as aggression, you may as well go all out. Moreover
In reality, Putin is well aware of the fundamental difference between supplying arms and entering a conflict directly
Suggesting allies should be less concerned about bear poking that Le Monde thinks.
As one would expect, there are many stories in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. One interesting one, from before the decision, has headlines: The suppliers (namely, the UK which was the only country who had provided tanks at the time of writing), ‘the pushers’ (Poland, anxious to send German tanks which required Germany’s sign off), ‘the procrastinators’ (Germany) and finally, ‘the profiteurs’:
The interim result of the debate is exactly what Russia wants: Western disunity.
Here I admit I’m getting out of my linguistic and cultural comfort zone, but I checked out the most popular Serbian tabloid and saw things like the below
Which translated is:
CALLS FOR NUCLEAR WAR!? TANKS ARE NOT ENOUGH FOR Zelensky, he wants to carry out STRATEGIC STRIKES on RUSSIA with LONG RANGE missiles?!
Another stories had similarly punctuated, similarly themed headlines.
Up (and back) to Scandinavia, it’s mostly reporting but we get interviews with some leading figures like the leader of the Venstre party who says
that Leopard 2 is essential for Ukraine to be able to drive Russia back. She also believes it is important that the US also opens up to sending its Abrams tanks.
And an army person who believes
the tanks can help tip the balance in favor of the Ukrainians in important battles. — It can determine the outcome of major battles. Not only that, but it can create conditions for reaching a decision on the battlefield.
The army person also dismisses the risk of it being viewed as a dangerous escalation.
Ukraine, Ukrainskaya Pravda
Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot here, including a separate category for tank stories that shows dozens of stories in the last few days. We see the minister of defense say that the tanks are an iron fist needed to breakthrough Russian defenses and regain occupied territory.
And we read a diplomat saying
We need this help as soon as possible. If we wait until August or September, it will be too late,
We are not afraid, we are preparing very seriously
Russia, TASS, Russia Today
I looked at the Russian language TASS news service and the English language RT. A notable strategy of the former was to collect negative reactions. Thus high up in the search results are Peskov’s remarks that the new tanks ‘will burn’ just like the old ones, or will be ‘destroyed’ (as the Russian ambassador to the US said).
Another story tells us
Trump warned of the risk of starting a nuclear conflict due to the transfer of Western tanks to Ukraine
And a third leads with news from France according to which
Le Figaro: in France they believe that the supply of tanks to Kyiv will not change the situation on the battlefield
While a fourth quotes a US figure telling us it’ll be difficult to maintain the tanks.
This is pretty interesting, I think: as a outlet that doesn’t really editorialize much, it nevertheless can convey a negative impression of the news by quoting various figures giving their negative impressions. For editorialization we turn to
In fact, searching in the domain of RT.com doesn’t reveal much: mainly stories of what happened with the further claim that the tanks will be destroyed and one story pointing out how “Scholz trampled on key post-WWII principle” and another that ‘Western tanks won’t be game changer for Ukraine”. But overall, fairly tame.
(If you want non-tame, check out RT editor-in-chief Simonyan’s twitter feed or Solovyov’s Telegram. On the former we read
Germany, after being flogged by Washington, will send 14 tanks to Ukraine. Gas chamber deliveries are also expected closer to summer.
So: absence of outrageous comments in what we looked at doesn’t imply absence in the overall Russian media landscape.)
Belarus, Novy Chas
As with Serbia, I’m linguistically and culturally out of my element here but I see stories with headlines like:
Once you start supplying tanks to Ukraine, it’s hard to stop
And goes on with the novel claim that
Because Western tanks are not a miracle weapon for you, but mechanical junk and technological backwardness. They have no analogues against Russian tanks.
by sending tanks to Ukraine, the West committed, of course, an unprecedented act of aggression, a blatant provocation and reached a new level of participation in the war.
Googling around it seems there are tonally similar stories but my patience for google translating whole things is finite. Belarus seems more agitated than Russia!
Finally, skipping across central Asia — with regret, because that would be interesting — I checked out a couple of Chinese sources. The English language China Daily is, to my surprise, perhaps the harshest:
The supplying of tanks by the US and Germany to Ukraine in its conflict with Russia has raised the stakes in a war scenario that could become increasingly perilous for the world …
Going on to quote people from Peskov to Trump to …. Michael Tracey criticising the move.
By contrast, the Chinese language sources I looked at were considerably more circumspect: the Chinese RT Weibo, while it has many stories about the tanks (the relevant search term being “主战坦克”) they are mostly factual. Similarly, the newspaper Reference News, the first ranked by circulation paper in China, also only — as far as I can tell — ran factual stories.
I don’t know what, if anything, explains this change in perspective (also the possibility I missed relevant Chinese language stories is high.)
Overall, pretty interesting I think! It’s neat to watch the same story approached from different attitudes both among groups with the same interests (the Western European countries) and those that don’t, and we can note that there was little unanimity: some thought there’s a risk of pisssing off Russia, some didn’t; some that the tanks would be decisive, others not. There was even disagreement about how good the tanks actually were, as well as differing opinions on the logistical problems with getting them set up and maintained.
Finally, it was interesting to see the rhetorical strategy of the people against the move of quoting others who themselves were against it, which is I suppose an interesting way for an ostensibly factual outlet to nevertheless make its perspective known.