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 nearly yearlong invasion.
President Joe Biden announced the latest tranche of lethal military aide at the White House, after a complicated diplomatic dance that has seenGermany announce its own decision to send 14 tanks to Kiev, with more on the way.
The US is also providing 500 armored vehicles as part of the package.
Biden 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 added that the Ukrainian military would use the armor to 'liberate their land.'
President Joe Biden announced the US would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. He called them 'The most capable tanks in the world'
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The president also cautioned that the move was 'going to take time' – a reference to the complex training involved with the weapons system, which he described as 'extremely complex to operate and maintain.'
And he thanked German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for the German government's contribution.
'Germany has really stepped up,' he said.
He also noted that the US tanks, which have a 120mm main gun, could be considered a gift for Zelensky, 45, who visited Biden at the White House a few days before Christmas.
'Today is his birthday, by the way,' Biden said, as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken flanked him.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked repeatedly for tanks as the next phase of the war in looms, but U.S. President Joe Biden has adopted a cautious approach
Russia warns 'nothing good' will come of German tanks fighting in Ukraine
Polish soldiers in German-made Leopard 2 tanks which German chancellor Olaf Scholz has been blocking from being sent to Ukraine
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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,' the president said.
After the president spoke, security spokesman Adm. John Kirby pushed back on claims the U.S. had done a turnaround to accommodate Germany. 'Tanks were never off the table,' Kirby said. He said it would take months to get the tanks to Ukraine, since the U.S. doesn't currently have any in excess stock that aren't being used. He said training requirements wouldn't slow the process, at least not by much.
'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 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 Biden administration is sending Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine
Biden called the Abrams tanks 'the most capable tanks in the world.' HereUS Army Sgt. 1st Class Corey Troxell, fires blank rounds through a .50 caliber machine gun mounted to an M1A2 Abrams tank during a simulated battle drill
Brigadier General Pat Ryer, the press secretary for the Pentagon, told CNN when asked if fighter jets will be made available to Zelensky, he said that nothing is off the table.
'We're going to continue to adapt, to ensure that Ukraine has the support they need to be successful, not only in defending their territory, but also taking back their sovereignterritory.'
The latest lethal aid package 'enables them … to retake territory,' said the senior administration official. The moves come despite theKremlin blasting it as an 'extremely dangerous' decision and a 'blatant provocation' one year after it invaded its neighbor.
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, a French Leclerc tank, a Polish German Leopard tank, and a US Abrams tank
The president spoke 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.
'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 with it.
'Thatwill 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.
The US and allies are also providing anti-tank weapons and ammunition. A Ukrainian service member fires a RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher 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 vehicles. The aim would be to ultimately provide two battalions worth, which would amount to 80 to 100. 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 Leopard 2s, after seeking Germany's approval. Berlin gave the green light on Wednesday.
Last week, the UK said it would send Challenger 2 tanks (pictured above) to Ukraine
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.
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 soldierfires a RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher during exercises earlier this week
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.