Washington — President Biden announced on Wednesday that the US will send 31 top classto Ukraine, fulfilling a key request from Kiev that will provide a major boost to Ukrainian firepower in the coming months.
“Today I am announcing that the United States will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion,” Biden said at the White House, flanked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The security suite is worth about $400 million, the Pentagon said.
The move comes after Germany said it would happen14 of its own Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and enable Western partners to re-export their own tanks, a move Mr Biden praised. France, the UK, Finland, the Netherlands and other countries are also sending important security assistance, Mr Biden noted, emphasizing that the United States’ action is part of a concerted effort by Western allies.
“Today’s announcement builds on the hard work and dedication of countries around the world, led by the United States of America, to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Biden said. “That’s what it’s about, helping Ukraine protect and defend Ukrainian land. It’s not an offensive threat to Russia. There’s no offensive threat to Russia. If Russian troops return to Russia…where they belong, this war could end today be over.”
Delivery of the Abrams tanks will take several months, given the time required to acquire them and train Ukrainian troops in their use.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the president’s announcement, senior government officials said the decision to deliver the tanks is a “continuation of our efforts to provide Ukraine with the capabilities they need to continue to better defend themselves.” Biden spoke with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the UK prior to his remarks on Wednesday morning.
The M-1 Abrams is the main tank system of the US military and “the most capable tanks in the world,” Biden said. Ukrainian officials have pleaded with Western allies to supply them with tanks to support spring counter-offensives aimed at retaking areas held by entrenched Russian forces. The US and more than 50 other countries pledged to supply about 500 more armored vehicles in talks last week.
The Abrams tanks and other armored vehicles are essential in helping Ukraine fight the Russians in open terrain, such as that in the mostly flat Donbas region.
U.S. officials have resisted arming the Ukrainians with Abrams tanks for weeks, arguing that the Leopard tanks, which run on diesel as opposed to the jet fuel needed to power the Abrams, are better suited to meet the immediate needs of the Ukrainians on the battlefield. Butfrom other allies – notably Poland and the Baltic States – and the Ukrainians themselves to supply Kiev with advanced refueling systems had been growing for weeks.
One of the US officials present on Wednesday said the tanks will help Ukraine defend against expected Russian offensives in the spring and help Ukrainian troops regain territory.
“We want to make sure they have the right capabilities to not just defend against the Russian attack – and we expect Mr Putin and the Russian military here to try to go on the offensive in the coming weeks and months as the the weather gets better – but also that they have the opportunity to retake their sovereign territory,” including Crimea, the official said.
The US announcement coincidentally fell on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s birthday. He told a German TV network on Tuesday that Western allies’ tanks will give his soldiers at the front a much-needed morale boost.
“They only do one very important thing: they motivate our soldiers to fight for their own values because they show that the whole world is behind you,” Zelensky said.
The tanks will not come directly from the US arsenal. The government will instead procure the systems with funds from its Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. That decision, coupled with the extensive training required to operate the tanks, means it will be some time before the vehicles are in Ukrainian hands.
“We are talking about months instead of weeks,” said a senior official.
“[The Pentagon] is currently working on the mechanisms to provide the fuel and equipment Ukraine needs to operate and maintain the Abrams,” another official added. use on the battlefield in the coming weeks and months.”
David Martin, Eleanor Watson and Haley Ott contributed reporting.