US to send dozens of Abrams tanks to Ukraine

Delivery will take 'months as opposed to weeks', senior administration officials say

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The US is sending 31 of its sophisticated M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine after months of diplomatic and defence talks, officials announced on Wednesday.

The move comes after Germany earlier said it would send an initial 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and the UK announced it would send 14 Challenger 2 tanks, in joint moves the White House hailed as “closely co-ordinated”.

“The United States and Europe are fully united,” said President Joe Biden in White House remarks announcing the Abrams shipments. He also praised enhanced support for Kyiv across Europe.

Russian President Vladimir “Putin expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve. He expected our support for Ukraine to crumble with time. He was wrong,” Mr Biden said.

A senior US administration official said that Abrams tanks are the “best in the world.”

“This is a tremendous new capability that Ukraine will be getting to boost its long-term defences,” the official said.

The tank system will improve Ukraine's manoeuvring capabilities and give it “the ability to fight effectively in open terrain”, another administration official said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the decision on Twitter, saying the shipment is “an important step on the path to victory”.

“Today the free world is united as never before for a common goal,” Mr Zelenskyy added.

The decision to send tanks to Ukraine comes after a months-long impasse that left western defence leaders unable to make an announcement after they met at the US airbase in Ramstein, Germany, last week.

Washington will procure the 31 Abrams tanks through its Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative Funding, however it will take “months as opposed to weeks” before Kyiv's forces will be trained to use the vehicles, officials said.

The time would be used “to make sure the Ukrainians are fully prepared to integrate the Abram tanks into their defences”, Mr Biden said.

The US President thanked Germany, Britain and other Nato allies for their decision to send tanks and other materiel to Ukraine, telling Mr Zelenskyy: “We are with you for as long as it takes.”

A soldier walks past a line of M1 Abrams tanks at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. AP

Officials said the US is sending 31 tanks because that is the amount needed for exactly one Ukrainian tank battalion.

Washington's announcement comes despite its admission that the sophisticated tank system makes things “more challenging” than systems provided to Kyiv in the past.

Hurdles include the supply chain and training and maintenance issues. The White House claims its decision to deliver the Abrams M1 is a response to how it expects the fight against the Russians will evolve in the weeks and months ahead.

Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov spoke with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin on Wednesday before Mr Biden's announcement, saying that Kyiv had the “full trust and support” of the US “until victory”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision also helped clear the way for other countries, such as Poland, to send their Leopards to Ukraine.

A senior administration official would not comment on whether Berlin had demanded the US send the Abrams before it sent the Leopards.

Andrew Metrick, a Defence Fellow at the Washington-based Centre for A New American Security, said the shipments are “potentially quite significant” in helping Ukraine to “break free from the attritional stalemate that the war has seemingly fallen into”.

“As with anything, it's going to come down to how the Ukrainian armed forces are able to leverage and employ these new capabilities in an integrated fashion,” Mr Metrick told The National.

“One of the things that's been evident is that the Ukrainian military has shown a really quick pizzazz for improvisation and learning under fire.”

“Western armour is really about changing the dynamics that we're seeing on the battlefield of this trench warfare, static lines and returning it to something where the Ukrainians are able to achieve more substantial gains.”

Berlin's decision defies warnings from Russia that allowing the transfer of the Leopards would “bring nothing good to the future relationship” between Berlin and Moscow.

Mr Biden spoke about Ukraine on Wednesday morning with Mr Scholz as well as President Emmanuel Macron of France, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the White House said.

The administration's decision to send the Abrams tanks was quickly met with bipartisan support from a usually polarised Congress.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who had called for the tank shipments earlier in the week, said he was “very pleased”.

“Well done to the Biden administration and to the German government, but we need to act quicker,” he said in a video on Twitter.

The House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith said he welcomed the announcement in a statement on Wednesday.

“As we near the one-year anniversary of Putin’s unprovoked war, it is more important than ever that the United States continues to provide necessary resources and weapons to the people of Ukraine as they show resilience and courage in the defence of their homeland,” said Mr Smith.

The Ukrainian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Updated: January 26, 2023, 7:25 AM