Germany and the United States said Wednesday they will send battle tanks to Ukraine, the first stage of a coordinated effort by the West to provide dozens of the heavy weapons to help Kyiv break combat stalemates as Russia’s invasion enters its 12th month.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. will send 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, reversing months of persistent arguments by Washington that the tanks were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The U.S. decision follows Germany agreeing to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany had said the Leopards would not be sent unless the U.S. put its Abrams on the table, not wanting to incur Russia’s wrath without the U.S. similarly committing its own tanks.
“This is the result of intensive consultations, once again, with our allies and international partners,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told German lawmakers. “It was right and it is important that we didn’t let ourselves be driven (into making the decision).”
Biden said European allies have agreed to send enough tanks to equip two Ukrainian tank battalions, or a total of 62 tanks.
“With spring approaching, Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for additional counter offenses,” 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.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed satisfaction at the news. Several European countries have equipped their armies with Leopard 2 tanks, and Germany’s announcement means they can give some of their stocks to Ukraine.
“German main battle tanks, further broadening of defense support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. Just heard about these important and timely decisions in a call with Olaf Scholz,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter. “Sincerely grateful to the chancellor and all our friends in (Germany).”
Scholz spoke on the phone with U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Wednesday afternoon, the German chancellery said in a statement. The exchange focused on the security situation in Ukraine and continued support for Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression.
All five leaders agreed to continue military support to Ukraine in close Euro-Atlantic coordination.
The long-awaited decision came after U.S. officials revealed Tuesday a preliminary agreement for the United States to send M1 Abrams tanks to help Ukraine’s troops push back Russian forces that remain entrenched in the country’s east almost a year after Russia invaded its neighbor. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public.
It is not clear when or how the tanks would be delivered to Ukraine, or how soon they could have an impact on the battlefield. Military analysts have said Russian forces are thought to be preparing for a spring offensive.
The US$400 million package announced Wednesday also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles — tank-like tracked vehicles that can tow the Abrams if it gets stuck.
Altogether, France, the U.K., the U.S., Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden will send hundreds of tanks and heavy armored vehicles to fortify Ukraine as it enters a new phase of the war and attempts to break through entrenched Russian lines.
While Ukraine’s supporters previously have supplied tanks, they were Soviet models in the stockpiles of countries that once were in Moscow’s sphere of influence but are now aligned with the West. Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials insisted their forces need more modern Western-designed tanks.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Germany’s decision. “At a critical moment in Russia’s war, these can help Ukraine to defend itself, win and prevail as an independent nation,” Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.
Russia’s ambassador to Germany, Sergey Nechayev, called Berlin’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine “extremely dangerous,” saying it “shifts the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts the statements of German politicians about their reluctance to get involved in it.”
Scholz had insisted that any decision to provide Ukraine with powerful Leopard 2 tanks would need to be taken in conjunction with Germany’s allies, chiefly the U.S. By getting Washington to commit some of its own tanks, Berlin hopes to share the risk of any backlash from Russia.
Ekkehard Brose, head of the German military’s Federal Academy for Security Policy, said tying the United States into the decision was crucial, to avoid Europe facing a nuclear-armed Russia alone.
But he also noted the deeper historic significance of the decision.
“German-made tanks will face off against Russian tanks in Ukraine once more,” he said, adding that this was “not an easy thought” for Germany, which takes its responsibility for the horrors of the Second World War seriously.