US senators on Tuesday called on Berlin and Washington to send tanks to help Ukraine fight Russia, as reports on both sides of the Atlantic suggested delivery of the vehicles could soon be approved.
Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Richard Blumenthal, who visited Ukraine last week, said the beleaguered nation urgently needed tanks, noting they are “more optimistic today than any [other] time” that western allies would supply them.
“Seldom in the history of modern warfare has so much depended on so few tanks,” Mr Graham said.
Britain has already agreed to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. For months, pressure has been building on the Pentagon to send Abrams M1 tanks and for Germany to provide Leopard 2s.
“The best tank for the fight is the German Leopard tank, and American tanks can be helpful in this regard,” Mr Graham said.
“If we send some Abrams tanks, it will open the floodgates to more tanks coming from allies and German Leopard tanks flowing into Ukraine.”
Several US media outlets on Tuesday cited anonymous sources as saying Washington could announce Abrams deliveries to Ukraine as soon as this week.
Meanwhile in Germany, news outlets said Berlin is set to approve sending Leopards after months of foot-dragging and prevarication.
Defence leaders met at the US airbase in Ramstein, Germany, last week but failed to resolve divisions over providing tanks.
Ukraine says tanks would give its troops more mobility and protection before an expected new Russian offensive. They could also help Ukraine retake some of the territory that has fallen to Russia.
Because Leopards are made in Germany, Berlin has the final say on how and where they are used — even if other countries are offering to send their own.
Mr Blumenthal argued that Germany's Leopards are “essential” to Ukraine's fight, largely because they are already in Europe.
He added that he understands the criticism that Abrams tanks are too complex and would pose maintenance and logistical challenges to Ukraine's fighters, but that it would open up Kyiv to a greater good.
“The Pentagon ought to come forward with those Abrams tanks if that's what is necessary for the Germans to give permission to our allies to provide the Leopard 2 tanks and for the Germans to provide those tanks themselves,” he said.
Russia said on Tuesday that the delivery of the Leopards would “bring nothing good to the future relationship” between Berlin and Moscow.
“They will leave a lasting mark,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a briefing.