US President Biden expected to agree to send tanks to Ukraine
US President Joe Biden is expected to approve sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, sources said on Tuesday, as Germany also announced it would send its Leopard tanks to support Kyiv in the fight against Russia.
US officials said details were still being worked out. One of the officials said the tanks will be purchased under the upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, which provides long-term financing for weapons and equipment to be purchased from commercial vendors.
The US announcement is expected to come in coordination with Germany’s announcement that it will agree to Poland’s request to transfer German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, according to one of the officials. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been announced.
By agreeing to send in the Abrams at an as-yet unspecified time under the Assistance Initiative, the administration is able to meet German Chancellor Olaf Schultz’s request for an American commitment without having to send the tanks immediately.
Much of the aid so far has been sent through a separate program that relies on Pentagon stocks to get weapons more quickly to Ukraine. But even under this program, it would take months to send tanks to Ukraine and train Ukrainian forces in them.
It is not known how many tanks will be approved.
Until now, the United States has resisted providing its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing the complex and intensive maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicles. Washington believes it would be more productive to send them in because many allies have these forces and that Ukrainian forces would need less training than the more difficult Abrams.
Just last week, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the Abrams is a complex, expensive, difficult to maintain and difficult to train piece of equipment. He said that one of the things Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been so focused on, “is that we shouldn’t introduce Ukrainian systems that they can’t fix, that they can’t afford, that, in the long run, they can’t afford, because they’re not useful.”
A US official familiar with the White House’s thinking said the administration’s initial hesitation was based on concerns about required training and tank support. The official added that the administration believes such plans are now in place, but that their implementation may take time.
At the Pentagon, a spokesman for Brig. Gen. Pat Rider said he had nothing to say about any US decision on the Abrams tanks. But he said, “Any time we provided Ukraine with some kind of system, we provided training and sustaining capabilities with that.”
The administration’s reversal comes just days after a coalition of more than 50 senior defense officials from Europe and beyond made battle tanks a major theme.
Ukrainian commanders were urgently requesting tanks, but either to supply their own tanks or to clear the way for other countries, such as Poland, to send German-made tanks from their own stocks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deployment of Western tanks would lead to “unequivocally negative” consequences.
Defense chiefs from countries with Leopard 2 tanks met the Germans during a conference Friday at Ramstein Air Base in an attempt to reach an agreement.
On Sunday, Berlin indicated that it would not stand in its way if other countries wanted to send Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv. Germany needs to agree to give the tanks to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.
American and German officials gave mixed signals about whether the American and German decisions were related, and whether Berlin was reluctant to send its tanks unless the United States sent the Abrams.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Paschaczak said on Tuesday that Poland has requested official permission from Germany to transfer its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine.
German officials confirmed to the dpa news agency that they had received the request and said it would be evaluated “expeditiously”. German Foreign Minister Analina Berbock said on Sunday that Berlin would not seek to prevent Poland from providing high-tech armor to Kyiv.
German officials declined to comment on the reports of a tank deal. Germany will supply Ukraine with at least one company of Leopard 2 tanks from its army’s stocks, weekly news newspaper Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday, without citing a source. Schultz is due to address parliament on Wednesday and will take questions from lawmakers, many of whom are pressing the government to join allies in providing tanks to Ukraine.
Congressional lawmakers have also been pressuring the United States to increase its aid to Ukraine.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that it was “time, time” for the Biden administration and its allies to send more military aid to Ukraine, and that the United States should provide more tanks and weapons to help Ukraine “win this war.”
“It is time, at last, for the Biden administration and our allies to get serious about helping Ukraine finish the job and take their country back.”
Possible plans to dispatch Abrams were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.