The US reversed its decision not to send modern, Western-made battle tanks to Ukraine and has decided to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, senior American officials said Wednesday.
“[Ukraine] requested new armored vehicle capabilities to defend their territory, prepare for new counteroffensives, and increase their long-term security,” a senior Biden administration official said.
Ukraine has been pleading for Western tanks for months as it prepares for an expected counteroffensive and a potential Russian offensive in the coming weeks.
The number of tanks chosen by the US was because that is how many tanks it would take to form a Ukrainian tank battalion. “So, we are specifically meeting that requirement,” said the official, who, like others, was speaking on condition of anonymity.
Kyiv says that it wants to reclaim from Russian forces all occupied territory.
The officials said that armored capabilities would improve the Ukrainians’ ability to maneuver, a critical asset for Ukraine as they continue to defend and reclaim their territory. “On the tanks, specifically, I’m proud to say that Abrams tanks are the best in the world,” a second administration official said.
The official added that Ukraine would be getting a boost to its long-term defenses.
In a speech after the announcement, US President Joe Biden said the latest move was “not an offensive threat to Russia.”
The US-made tanks would be procured through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), meaning the deliveries would take months as opposed to weeks, to be delivered.
A second method used to provide US weapons to Ukraine more rapidly is through what is known as a Presidential Drawdown Authority, which takes weapons from Pentagon stockpiles.
The official said the US expected “other nations” to announce additional armored capability contributions, including some readily available on the battlefield in the coming weeks and months.
Ukraine was also asking Europe for modern tanks to replace the Soviet-era T-72 tanks they are currently using.
But Germany, which has been criticized for its stance on helping Ukraine, was putting a hold on sending any of its tanks and denying other countries permission to send German-provided tanks.
Berlin demanded that the US send its own tanks if it were to send any of its highly coveted Leopard 2 tanks.
Germany announced it would send 14 Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine on Wednesday, adding that it would also allow other European countries to send German-made tanks.
Biden said Germany had “really stepped up” after finally pledging tanks.
Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement, the leaders of the US, France, Britain, Italy and Germany held a phone call to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
The first US administration official said the pledge of tanks showed that the US and Europe continue to work closely to support Ukraine, “united in our common values and our ongoing support to Ukraine, which… will continue for as long as it takes.”