— Washington, D.C. The United States plans to deploy 31 premium M-1 Abrams combat tanks to Ukraine, fulfilling a crucial request from Kyiv that will dramatically increase Ukrainian firepower in the coming months.
On Wednesday, top government officials speaking anonymously confirmed preparations to send 31 tanks, the equivalent of a battalion of Ukrainian tanks. This step follows the announcement by Germany that it will quickly deliver 14 of its own Leopard tanks to Ukraine and allow Western partners to re-export their own.
The delivery of the Abrams tanks will take several months due to the time required to acquire and educate Ukrainian soldiers on the tanks.
On a conference call with reporters, the officials explained that the decision to provide tanks resulted from “continued diplomatic conversations” with European allies and partners, and represents a “continuation of our effort to provide Ukraine with the capabilities that they need to continue to better defend themselves.”
President Biden is scheduled to speak Wednesday afternoon about U.S. assistance for Ukraine. He spoke with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Wednesday morning, prior to his speech, the White House announced that he would be speaking.
The M-1 Abrams is the United States’ primary tank system and one of the most advanced in the world. Ukrainian officials have requested assistance from its Western allies in the form of tanks to bolster spring counteroffensives aimed at recapturing Russian-held territory.
A U.S. Army M-1 Abrams tank fires during NATO drills in Latvia on 26 March 2021. INTS KALNINS / REUTERS
One of the senior officials described the Abrams tanks as “best in the world” and a “a tremendous new capability that Ukraine will be getting to boost its long-term defenses.”
U.S. authorities have delayed arming the Ukrainians with Abrams tanks for weeks, arguing that diesel-powered Leopard tanks, as opposed to jet-powered Abrams tanks, are better suited to meet the Ukrainians’ pressing tactical requirements. Pressure from other allies, including Poland, the Baltic republics, and the Ukrainians themselves, to provide Kiev with advanced tank systems had been increasing for weeks.
According to one U.S. official, the tanks will assist Ukrainian troops in regaining territory and fighting against anticipated spring Russian offensives.
“We want to make sure that they have the right capabilities to not only defend themselves against the Russian onslaught — and we do expect that Mr. Putin and the Russian military will try to go on the offense here in coming weeks and months, as the weather gets better — but also that they have the ability to retake, to reclaim their sovereign territory,” including Crimea, the official said.
The announcement of American tanks coincided with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s birthday. Assad told a German television network on Tuesday that the tanks from Western allies will considerably boost the morale of his front-line troops.
As Zelenskyy noted, they empower our fighters to fight for their own values by demonstrating that the entire world is on their side.
The tanks will not be produced in the United States. Instead, the administration will acquire the systems using Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funds. Due to this decision and the extensive training required to operate the tanks, it will be some time before the Ukrainian military possesses these vehicles.
A senior administration official stated, “We’re talking months as opposed to weeks,”
Another official stated, “[The Pentagon] is currently working through the mechanisms to deliver the fuel and equipment Ukraine will need to operate and to maintain the Abrams,” “We do expect other nations to announce contributions of additional armored capability, including some that will be readily available for use on the battlefield in the coming weeks and months.”