January 29, 2023

President Biden said Wednesday that the US will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reflecting a rapidly growing effort to provide Ukraine with heavy weapons in its war with Russia.

“The United States, standing shoulder to shoulder with its allies, will do whatever it takes to help Ukraine,” Biden said in brief remarks at the White House. “We are united.”

Biden’s announcement came just hours after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country would send 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Germany had resisted such a move, but Scholz changed his mind after coming under constant pressure from many Western nations that supported Ukraine.

“I am grateful to Chancellor Scholz,” said Biden. “Germany has really stepped on the gas.”

The American and German tanks on the way to Ukraine are considered the two best models in the world. They are part of a blockbuster month of new heavy weapons pledged to Ukraine, by far the largest such build-up since Russia launched a full-scale invasion 11 months ago.

The announcements by the US and Germany also signal a willingness to send additional weapons, which they previously viewed as a red line, as it could lead to further escalation by Russia.

But that reluctance has largely collapsed, especially over the past month as the US and NATO countries have offered a slew of new weapons, including the Patriot missile air defense system, hundreds of armored vehicles, and now the tanks.

“It’s not an offensive threat to Russia. There is no offensive threat to Russia,” Biden said of the tanks. “This is about freedom – freedom for Ukraine, freedom everywhere.”

Ukraine is defeated

Ukraine says it urgently needs tanks. It relied on aging Soviet-era models and was surpassed by Russia as the war progressed.

But military analysts emphasize that there is no single weapon that will determine the outcome of the war. Tanks are just a key component of the “combined arms” Ukraine needs to launch successful offensives and defeat Russian forces that still occupy large parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.

The other elements include effective ground forces, agile armored vehicles, artillery, air force and air defense. Pledges over the past month aim to improve Ukraine’s military strength on several fronts. And they come as Ukraine prepares for a likely escalation of fighting towards the end of winter or into spring.

Both Ukraine and Russia have offered not-so-subtle hints that they are likely to launch new offensives.

The President did not say when US tanks would reach Ukraine. But a senior administration official, who was only allowed to speak on condition of anonymity, said it would be “months, not weeks”.

The Abrams is considered the best tank in the world and also the most sophisticated. It requires extensive training and maintenance, and runs on jet fuel rather than diesel fuel used by other tanks.

The German tanks, also considered to be first class, are expected to reach Ukraine much sooner, although no date has been announced.

months of hesitation

Chancellor Olaf Scholz had been deeply reluctant to significantly increase German support. But given the quality and availability of German tanks, he came under increasing pressure. Speaking to Parliament on Wednesday, he defended the long time it took to make the decision.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that is the right principle. We are dealing with very effective weapon systems, and it is right that we never deploy these weapon systems alone, but always in close cooperation,” said Scholz.

In many statements by US officials over the months, the US said the Abram tank was not the best choice for Ukraine. In contrast, the leopard seemed to make more sense. More than a dozen European nations have them. These countries have trained with the leopards and know how to care for them.

But the Germans didn’t want to do it alone. The US announcement appeared to offer political protection for the Germans to move forward.

A senior U.S. official, not authorized to speak publicly, described the German and U.S. armor promises as follows: “Coupled with the German short-term commitment to the Leopards, we believe the Abrams represent a long-term commitment.” US

Poland and other European nations with Leopard tanks are also expected to offer them to Ukraine.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has received pledges for heavy weapons over the past month that far exceed anything in the previous 11 months of the war.

In late December, the US said it would deploy a Patriot missile defense system, believed to be key to helping Ukraine defend against the ongoing Russian missile attack on the country’s power grid.

On Jan. 6, the US announced a $3 billion arms package, the largest single tranche to date.

Last Friday, the US led a coalition of more than 50 countries that met in Ramstein, Germany, to offer additional support to Ukraine. While much of the public debate centered on US and German refusals to provide tanks, Ukraine received extremely strong support overall. The US pledged another $2.5 billion, including more than 500 armored vehicles. The Germans offered an additional billion dollars in military hardware.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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