Washington — The US plans to send 31 top-of-the-lineto Ukraine, delivering on a key request from Kyiv that will provide a major boost to Ukrainian firepower over the coming months.
Senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity Wednesday confirmed the plans to send the 31 tanks, the equivalent of a Ukrainian tank battalion. The move comes after Germany said it would14 of its own Leopard tanks to Ukraine and allow Western partners to re-export their own.
The delivery of the Abrams tanks will take several months, given the time needed to procure them and train Ukrainian troops on their use.
On a call with reporters, the officials said the decision to provide the tanks came after “continued diplomatic conversations” with European allies and partners, and is a “continuation of our effort to provide Ukraine with the capabilities that they need to continue to better defend themselves.”
President Biden is set to deliver remarks on US support for Ukraine Wednesday afternoon. He spoke with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the UK Wednesday morning ahead of his remarks, the White House said.
The M-1 Abrams is the US military’s main tank system and one of the most sophisticated in the world. Ukrainian officials have been pleading with Western allies to provide them with tanks to bolster counter-offensives in the spring aimed at retaking areas held by dug-in Russian troops.
One of the senior officials called the Abrams tanks the “best in the world” and “a tremendous new capability that Ukraine will be getting to boost its long-term defenses.”
US officials have for weeks resisted arming the Ukrainians with Abrams tanks, arguing that the Leopard tanks, which run on diesel as opposed to the Abrams’ jet fuel, are better suited to meet the Ukrainians’ immediate needs on the battlefield. Buttfrom other allies — particularly Poland, the Baltic states and the Ukrainians themselves — to provide Kyiv with advanced tank systems had been growing for weeks.
One of the US officials said the tanks will help Ukraine defend itself against expected Russian offensives in the spring and help Ukrainian troops reclaim territory.
“We want to make sure that they have the right capabilities to not only defend themselves against the Russian onslaught — and we do expect that Mr. Putin and the Russian military will try to go on the offense here in coming weeks and months, as the weather gets better — but also that they have the ability to retake, to reclaim their sovereign territory,” including Crimea, the official said.
The US tanks announcement happens to come on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s birthday. He told a German TV network on Tuesday that the tanks from Western allies will provide a much-needed morale boost to his soldiers on the front lines.
“They do only one very important thing — they motivate our soldiers to fight for their own values, because they show that the whole world is with you,” Zelenskyy said.
The tanks will not come directly from the US arsenal. The administration will instead procure the systems using funds from its Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. That decision, coupled with the extensive training needed to operate the tanks, means it will take a while for the vehicles to be in Ukrainian hands.
“We’re talking months as opposed to weeks,” one senior administration official said.
“[The Pentagon] is currently working through the mechanisms to deliver the fuel and equipment Ukraine will need to operate and to maintain the Abrams,” another official added. “We do expect other nations to announce contributions of additional armored capability, including some that will be readily available for use on the battlefield in the coming weeks and months.”