Biden says the US will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine for a significant increase in firepower

Washington — President Biden announced on Wednesday that the United States will send 31 high-class M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, fulfilling a key request from Kiev that will give a serious 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,” Mr. Biden said at the White House, accompanied by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. According to the Pentagon, the security package is worth approximately 400 million dollars.

The move follows Germany’s statement quickly provide 14 of its own Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow Western partners to re-export their own, which Mr. Biden praised. France, Great Britain, Finland, the Netherlands and other countries are also sending key security assistance, Mr. Biden noted, stressing that the United States’ move is part of a concerted effort by Western allies.

“Today’s announcement builds on the hard work and commitment of countries around the world, led by the United States of America, to help Ukraine protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mr. Biden said. “It is about helping Ukraine to protect and defend Ukrainian land. This is not an offensive threat to Russia. There is no offensive threat for Russia. If Russian troops return to Russia…where they belong, this war will end today. ”

The delivery of the Abrams tanks will take several months, given the time needed to purchase them and train the Ukrainian military to use them.

A US Army M-1 Abrams tank fires during NATO exercises in Latvia on March 26, 2021.
A US Army M1 Abrams tank fires during a NATO exercise in Latvia on March 26, 2021.

INTS KALNINS / REUTERS


In a press conference previewing the president’s announcement, senior administration officials said the decision to provide tanks is “a continuation of our efforts to provide Ukraine with the capabilities it needs to continue to better defend itself.” Mr Biden spoke to the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Britain on Wednesday morning before his speech.

The M1 Abrams is the main tank system of the US armed forces and “the most powerful tanks in the world”, Mr Biden said. Ukrainian officials have asked their Western allies to provide them with tanks to bolster a spring counteroffensive aimed at retaking areas held by entrenched Russian troops. Last week, the United States and more than 50 other countries pledged to supply about 500 more armored vehicles.

Abrams tanks and other armored vehicles are key to helping Ukraine fight the Russians in open terrain similar to that found in the mostly flat Donbass region, where fighting has raged since 2014 between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists.

US officials have resisted arming the Ukrainians with Abrams tanks for weeks, arguing that Leopard tanks, which run on diesel fuel rather than the jet fuel needed to power the Abrams, are better suited to meet the Ukrainians’ immediate needs on the battlefield. But pressure from other allies — in particular, Poland and the Baltic states — and the Ukrainians themselves, the provision of advanced tank systems to Kiev increased over the course of several weeks.

One of the US officials who participated in the conversation on Wednesday said that the tanks will help Ukraine defend itself against an expected Russian offensive in the spring and will help Ukrainian forces to regain territory.

“We want to be sure that they have the proper capabilities not only to defend themselves against a Russian attack — and we expect that Mr. Putin and the Russian military will try to go on the offensive here in the coming weeks and months as the weather improves, but also that , that they have an opportunity to regain their sovereign territory, including Crimea, the official said.

The US statement coincided with the birthday of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He told a German television network on Tuesday that the tanks of the Western allies would provide a much-needed morale boost to his soldiers on the front lines.

“They do only one very important thing – they motivate our soldiers to fight for their own values, because they show that the whole world is with you,” said Zelensky.

The tanks will not come directly from the American arsenal. Instead, the administration will purchase the systems with funds from its Ukraine Security Initiative. This decision, combined with the extensive training required to operate the tanks, means it will take some time before the vehicles end up in Ukrainian hands.

“We’re talking months, not weeks,” said one senior administration official.

“[The Pentagon] is currently working on fuel and equipment delivery mechanisms that Ukraine will need for the operation and maintenance of the Abrams, another official added. “We do expect that other countries will announce the provision of additional armored assets, including those that will be available for use on the battlefield in the coming weeks and months.”

David Martin, Eleanor Watson and Hayley Ott contributed to this report.

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