The United States announced on Wednesday that it would provide 31 Abrams tanks to help Ukraine repel Russian forces, mirroring a similar move announced earlier in the day by Germany and despite dire warnings from Moscow against an escalation of the conflict.
The twin announcements will come as a big relief to Kiev, which has been begging for months for heavy Western tanks to help its forces repel the Russian invasion.
The US pledge came hours after Germany — which reportedly demanded a US commitment to supply tanks before agreeing to send its own — approved the long-awaited delivery of its powerful Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
However, unlike the German tanks, the M1 Abrams will be procured through Ukrainian aid and not directly from existing US stockpiles, meaning they will not arrive on the battlefield for several months.
US President Joe Biden, who on Wednesday spoke with key European allies about supporting the fight against Kiev, made a White House address on the supply of US tanks, in which he stressed that US tanks are not an “offensive threat to Russia”.
The move is a significant U-turn for the US after Defense Department officials repeatedly described the Abrams as unfit for the task at hand.
“Tanks are complex systems that require a significant amount of training and maintenance,” the official said, and the United States “will now begin work on a comprehensive training program.”
The US Department of Defense is also “working out mechanisms for the delivery of fuel and equipment that Ukraine will need for the operation and maintenance of the Abrams,” the official added.
In recent days, representatives of the Ministry of Defense have expressed various doubts about the suitability of the Abrams, which was first put into service by the US Army in 1980, for use in Ukraine.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said Tuesday that the tank was “a very capable combat platform. It’s also a very complex ability.”
“Like everything we offer to Ukraine, we want to make sure they have the ability to support it, support it, train on it,” he said.
Asked on Wednesday whether Germany was asking Washington to provide the Abrams as a precondition to handing over the Leopards, the senior official said Berlin would have to discuss the timing of the announcement, but the United States “coordinated our security assistance closely with allies and partners”. throughout the conflict.’
The tank delivery, announced by the United States and Germany, follows recent pledges of dozens of other armored vehicles to help Kiev in offensive operations.
Washington has pledged 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers and 109 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, while Germany has pledged around 40 of its Marder vehicles, the UK has said it will provide 14 Challenger 2 heavy tanks and France will provide AMX-10 RC light tanks.
“You will see how hundreds of armored vehicles – exceptionally powerful machines – and tanks arrive in Ukraine. And what is important, they will arrive with trained crews,” said a high-ranking US official.