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Biden will send 31 Abrams tanks worth $400 million to Ukraine

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The Biden administration is sending an entire battalion of 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, yielding to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s push for heavy armor to counter Russia’s invasion.

President Joe Biden announced the latest tranche of lethal military aide for Ukraine at the White House, after a complicated diplomatic dance that has Germany announcing its own decision to send 14 of its own tanks to Kiev, with more on the way. 

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The U.S. is providing 500 armored vehicles as part of the package. 

He called the M1 Abrams tanks ‘the most capable tanks in the world’ and said they would ‘enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory to achieve its strategic objectives.’

He also cautioned that the move was ‘going to take time’ – a reference to the complex training involved with the weapons system. And he thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for the German government’s contribution. 

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‘Germany has really stepped up,’ he said. He also noted that the tanks, which have a 120 mm main gun, was a bit of a gift for Zelensky, who visited Biden at the White House last month, was a bit of a present for his counterpart. ‘Today is his birthday, by the way,’ Biden said, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken flanking him. 

President Joe Biden announced the US would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. He called them 'The most capable tanks in the world'

President Joe Biden announced the US would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. He called them ‘The most capable tanks in the world’

Biden responded to a question about whether Germany forced him to change his mind on sending the tanks.

‘Germany didn’t force me to change my mind. We wanted to make sure we were all together. That’s what we were going to do all along, and that’s what we’re doing right now,’ Biden said. 

‘Today we’ll be announcing that the United States will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, which is the equivalent of one Ukrainian tank battalion,’ a senior administration official told reporters on a call Wednesday.

The Pentagon is also providing eight M88 recovery vehicles, to help keep the Abrams tanks ‘up and running,’ according to a senior administration official. The latest lethal aid package ‘enables them … to retake territory,’ said the senior administration official. The moves comes despite the Kremlin blasting it as an ‘extremely dangerous’ decision and a ‘blatant provocation’ one year after it invaded its neighbor.

The Biden administration is moving closer to sending Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine, a step that would provide diplomatic cover for Germany to send its own Leopard tanks

The Biden administration is moving closer to sending Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine, according to the Wall Street Journal, a step that would provide diplomatic cover for Germany to send its own Leopard tanks and approve delivery from other nations

The tanks come as the US is stepping up its ‘combined forces’ training for Ukrainian forces outside of Ukrainian territory – allowing them to better integrate air, ground, and armored forces in a more sophisticated form of warfare. 

The official wouldn’t confirm reports that the US tank pledge was a precondition for Germany’s own decision, saying instead that the two side had an ‘iterative conversation that we have been having with the Germans.’

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Germany last week for an arms conference, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has been holdings talks with his counterpart. 

Biden spoke Wednesday morning with President Macron of France, Chancellor Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Meloni of Italy, and Prime Minister Sunak of the United Kingdom ‘as part of our close coordination on support for Ukraine,’ according to the White House. 

The move follows earlier reports administration is close to sending Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine – a powerful weapon that the administration has resisted sending, citing practical reasons.

‘It is the most capable tank in the world, but it’s also the most sophisticated,’ said an administration official, noting the training and supply chain issues that come along with it.

‘That will significantly strengthen their combat capabilities and demonstrates also the unity and resolve of NATO allies and partners in providing support to Ukraine,’ NATO Secretary Gen. Jens Stoltenberg said of Germany’s decision, speaking to CNN Wednesday, also stressing the ability to improve Ukraine’s ability to retake territory.

President Volodmyr Zelensky

President Joe Biden

President Volodmyr Zelensky has asked repeatedly for tanks as the next phase of the war in Ukraine looms, but President Joe Biden has adopted a cautious approach

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that his country was sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that his country was sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

Tanks for these: This combination of file photographs created on January 25, 2023, shows (TOP L/BOTTOM R): A British Challenger tank from the fourth royal armoured brigade holding position near Skopje airport on March 27, 1999, a French Leclerc tank of the 501th Tank Regiment based in Mourmelon-le-Grand, takes part in a drill on a shooting field in Suippes, north-eastern France, on December 6, 2018, a Polish German Leopard tank manouvers as troops from Poland, US, France and Sweden take part in the DEFENDER-Europe 22 military exercise, in Nowogard, Poland on May 19, 2022, and a US Abrams tank is guided into position as troops from Poland

Tanks for these: This combination of file photographs created on January 25, 2023, shows (TOP L/BOTTOM R): A British Challenger tank from the fourth royal armoured brigade holding position near Skopje airport on March 27, 1999, a French Leclerc tank of the 501th Tank Regiment based in Mourmelon-le-Grand, takes part in a drill on a shooting field in Suippes, north-eastern France, on December 6, 2018, a Polish German Leopard tank manouvers as troops from Poland, US, France and Sweden take part in the DEFENDER-Europe 22 military exercise, in Nowogard, Poland on May 19, 2022, and a US Abrams tank is guided into position as troops from Poland

Ukraine is getting a patchwork of battle tanks to help it try to retake lost territory seized by Russia

Ukraine is getting a patchwork of battle tanks to help it try to retake lost territory seized by Russia

The US and allies are also providing air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, and ammunition. A Ukrainian service member fires a RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher during offensive and assault drills, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia Region, Ukraine January 23, 2023

The US and allies are also providing air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, and ammunition. A Ukrainian service member fires a RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher during offensive and assault drills, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia Region, Ukraine January 23, 2023

Germany announced that it will send German built Leopard 2 battle tanks, with an initial company of 14 tanks.  The aim would be to ultimately provide two battalions worth, which would amount to 80 to 100 of them. The Leopards are widely used in western militaries, and other countries have been seeking Germany’s authorization to send their own. 

The British government announced this month it would send its own squadron of 14 Challenger 2 battle tanks, while the Polish government has been girding to send 14 of its own Leopard 2s, after seeking Germany’s approval. Berlin gave the green light on Wednesday.

American officials have repeatedly said the sophisticated Abrams, which guzzles fuel and needs extensive training, would not suit Ukrainian forces.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday called the moves by the US and Germany ‘long overdue.’

 ‘Now that Berlin is taking a step, I hope that other European countries with tanks in their inventory will move expeditiously to send them to Ukraine,’ he said on the Senate floor. He said modern tanks will provide ‘highly maneuverable firearms to keep pressure on the Russian aggressors,’ but underlined that ‘time is of the essence.  

But the decision would close a rift between the U.S., Germany and other European nations in how far to go in arming Ukraine ahead of what it is believed to be a key phase of the war, as Vladimir Putin plans major spring offensive.

Last week, the U.K. announced it was sending Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, but that did not spur the U.S. or Germany to immediately follow suit.

German officials are said to be worried about the sight of their tanks operating close to the Russian border, with echoes of the Nazi advance during World War II. 

Meanwhile, European diplomatic sources have frequently expressed frustration with President Joe Biden’s cautious approach, which they say pays too much heed to Russia’s threats of escalation. 

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that that appeared to change after a Jan. 17 call between Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in which the U.S. president agreed to consider supplying Abrams.

A senior German official said the dispute appeared to be close to resolution. 

At the same time, Poland on Tuesday morning officially asked for permission from Germany to supply Leopard 2 tanks to the war effort.

Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an infantry fighting vehicle during offensive and assault drills in the southern Zaporizhzhia region

Ukrainian soldiers ride atop an infantry fighting vehicle during offensive and assault drills in the southern Zaporizhzhia region

A soldier fires a RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher during exercises earlier this week

A soldier fires a RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher during exercises earlier this week 

German exports of their tank require Berlin to give approval before they can be re-exported.

Amid those developments, Russia further ratcheted up the tension.  

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, ‘these deliveries would bring nothing good to the future relationship’ between Berlin and Moscow, adding: ‘They will leave a lasting mark.’ 

It comes as Ukrainian advances at the end of last year stalled with frontlines static for the past two months.

Ukraine says tanks are crucial for the next phase of the war, giving its ground troops the protection and firepower to move ahead. 

‘We need tanks – not 10-20, but several hundred,’ President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram. 

‘Our goal is (restoring) the borders of 1991 and punishing the enemy, who will pay for their crimes.’

This year some allies have begun talking openly about the defeat of Russia, rather than a negotiated settlement.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly brought the message to Washington last week, when he said that Putin was more vulnerable than ever.

Last week, the UK said it would send Challenger 2 tanks (pictured above) to Ukraine

Last week, the UK said it would send Challenger 2 tanks (pictured above) to Ukraine

‘Until recently, his attacks on civilian infrastructure have been done with cruise missiles,’ he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

‘He’s now using ballistic missiles to do the same thing – much, much, much more expensive.

‘He’s doing it clearly because he’s running low on other munitions.

‘So this is the time, if we want to bring this to a successful conclusion – and, of course, we should and we do – we should look to bring it to a conclusion quickly.

‘The conclusion has to be a Ukrainian victory and that dictates, therefore, that we need to intensify our support at this point in time, while Russia has been on the back foot, to give the Ukrainians the tools they need to get the job done.’

Last week, discussions were held about the delivery of weapons from the West at the Ramstein airbase in southern Germany, but Scholz still held firm. 

German defence group Rheinmetall said it could delivery 29 Leopard 2A4 tanks by April/May and a further 22 of the same model around the end of 2023 or early 2024, if Scholz gives the word.

It could also supply 88 older Leopard 1 tanks, a spokesman said.

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