The U.S. is joining allies in sending tanks to Ukraine so the country can be even more successful in resisting Russian invaders, President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.
“With spring approaching, Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for additional counter-offensives,” Biden said. “To liberate their land, they need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term. They need to improve their ability to maneuver on open terrain and they need an enduring capability to deter and defend against Russian aggression over the long term.”
The Biden administration will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks ― the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion ― to Ukrainian forces, while Germany and other European states will ship over German-made Leopard 2 tanks. Britain also plans to supply Kyiv with 14 of its own Challenger 2 tanks, and France is contributing AMX-10 armored fighting vehicles. Together, the deliveries represent a turning point in Western support for Ukraine ― and a sign of confidence in Ukrainians’ ability to recapture territory from the Russian troops that invaded their country 11 months ago.
“The United States, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with allies and partners, is going to continue to do all we can to support Ukraine,” Biden said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “expected Europe and the United States to weaken our resolve,” Biden continued. “He expected our support for Ukraine to crumble with time. He was wrong. He was wrong from the beginning and continues to be wrong.”
Ukrainian leaders say their military needs 300 tanks to support its war effort, taking advantage of Russian weakness before Moscow can reequip its forces. The tanks, particularly the Abrams models, are advanced, so it will likely take months for them to arrive and for Ukrainian troops to learn how to deploy them.
“Abrams tanks are the most capable tanks in the world, and they’re also extremely complex to operate and maintain,” Biden said. “So we’re also giving Ukraine the parts and equipment necessary to effectively sustain these tanks on the battlefield.”
In recent weeks, Germany has been reluctant to approve tank transfers for Ukraine ― including from allies fielding German equipment who need Berlin’s permission to export it ― for fear of escalating the conflict and facing Moscow’s retaliation alone. But earlier on Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tacitly acknowledged that he had taken heed of international criticism and the argument that without strong support for Ukraine now, even worse escalation by Russia would be inevitable. Scholz said Germany would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks.
Biden noted Scholz’s commitment to organizing two Leopard battalions for Ukraine by working with other nations who hold the tanks and said that “Germany has really, really stepped up.”
The Biden administration was shrewd to understand and carefully address German concerns without publicly pressuring Scholz as some other Western governments have done, analysts said after his comments.
“Biden has the broader goal in sight: Unity and Ukraine,” Liana Fix, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank tweeted. “Turning the page after the irritation of the last week, he praises German leadership and Olaf Scholz as a close friend. That‘s how leadership works. Be generous with your praise, and effective with your policy.”
Some U.S. officials have been wary of committing Abrams tanks to Ukraine. But their colleagues who argued the promise was key to getting Germany to move won the Biden administration’s internal debate.
Biden rejected the notion that Germany “forced” him to change his mind on sending tanks, adding that “we want to make sure we’re all together.”
And he noted that the U.S. and its partners are also intensely focused on bolstering Ukrainian air defense, an effort to block any Russian assault on Ukraine’s military capabilities or outrages like the Russian strike on an apartment building this month that killed at least 40 civilians.
Biden still insists the U.S. will not engage in fighting in Ukraine with its own troops.
“Today’s announcement builds on the hard work and commitment from countries around the world, led by the United States of America, to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Biden said.
“That’s what this is about, helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land,” he continued. “It is not an offensive threat to Russia. There is no offensive threat to Russia. If Russian troops return to Russia, they’ll be where they belong. This war would be over today. That’s what we all want, an end to this war.”
Ukraine’s leadership is worried that Western support may wane, particularly given skepticism of Kyiv among some members of the Republican Party, which gained greater influence by taking over the House of Representatives this month.
U.S. and allied officials say consistently advancing aid in a united way is key to reassuring the Ukrainians. Congress has already committed significant assistance to the war-torn nation for 2023, they note.
“Ukrainians are fighting an age-old battle against aggression and domination. It’s a battle Americans have fought proudly time and again, and it’s a battle we’re going to make sure the Ukrainians are well-equipped to fight as well,” Biden said. “This is about freedom ― freedom for Ukraine, freedom everywhere. It’s about the kind of world we want to live in and the world we want to leave to our children.”