The United States announced Wednesday that it will supply Ukraine with 31 advanced M1 Abrams tanks worth $400 million in a matter of months, a move that helped break a diplomatic deadlock with Germany over how best to help kyiv in its war against Russia.
President Joe Biden announced the decision at the White House, saying the tanks are needed to help the Ukrainians “improve their ability to maneuver in open terrain.”
Biden thanked Germany for its decision to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks and listed the other military equipment on the ground being supplied by other NATO allies and other European countries. “Germany has really stepped up,” he said.
“The expectation on the part of Russia is that we are going to separate,” Biden said of the US and European allies. “But we are completely, totally and truly united.”
The United States had been cool with the idea of deploying the hard-to-maintain Abrams tanks, but had to change course to persuade Germany to send its more user-friendly Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
The decisions by Washington and Berlin come as Western allies help Ukraine prepare for a possible spring counteroffensive to try to drive Russia out of territory it has occupied.
“There is no offensive threat to Russia” from tanks, Biden said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any Abrams shipments would be a waste of money as they “burn” like other tanks in Ukraine.
The head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, hailed the tank announcements as a “historic day” that would help determine the outcome of the war.
Biden said the US decision was not in response to pressure from Germany, responding to a reporter’s question. “Germany didn’t force me to change my mind, we wanted to make sure we were all together,” he said.
The Abrams, one of the most powerful American tanks, won’t be heading to the Ukraine any time soon.
Senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the decision said it will take months, not weeks, for the Abrams to turn themselves in and described the move in terms of providing a long-term defense of Ukraine.
Members of the Ukrainian military will receive training on the use of the Abrams at a location yet to be determined. While a highly sophisticated and expensive weapon, the Abrams is difficult to maintain and presents a logistical refueling challenge because it runs on jet fuel.
The total cost of a single Abrams tank can vary and can be over $10 million per tank if training and maintenance are included.
Senior administration officials said Biden had spoken with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz multiple times this month about assistance to Ukraine. He spoke again on Wednesday with Scholz, as well as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron, who are close allies, to help Ukraine.
“Today’s announcement was really the product of good diplomatic talks as part of our regular and ongoing close consultations with allies and partners on security assistance to Ukraine,” an official said.
Further announcements from US allies on additional armored vehicle capacity are expected, the official said.
“I am sure that many experts understand the absurdity of this idea,” the Kremlin’s Peskov said of the Abrams tanks. “The plan is disastrous in terms of technology,” he said. “But above all, it overestimates the potential that it will add to the Ukrainian army. These tanks burn like all the others,” Peskov told reporters.
A source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Tuesday that the US decision on the Abrams was part of talks with the Germans about their reluctance to provide tanks and show that the US commitment was significant.
“The United States was willing to make a significant commitment to help them make theirs,” the source said. “Tanks are an important capability and if it required US leadership, that’s what we were willing to do.”
The United States will provide the tanks through a fund known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the Biden administration to purchase weapons from industry rather than from existing US weapons stocks. Buying them is a slower process.