In a major increase in US support for Ukraine, President Joe Biden has approved the dispatch of 31 M1 Abrams tanks to the war-torn country amid growing concerns about a new Russian offensive this spring, senior officials say. administrative officials.
“The reason for 31 is that that’s the number of tanks that would make up a Ukrainian tank battalion,” a US official told reporters in a conference call earlier Wednesday. “So we are responding specifically to this requirement.”
The president is expected to speak at noon ET from the White House’s Roosevelt Room on ‘continued support for Ukraine,’ as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a direct appeal for more tanks with a harsh winter and the first anniversary of the Russian invasion. approaching.
The US announcement of its tank commitment comes on the same day that Germany also pledged to send Ukraine 14 of its own Leopard 2 tanks.
Political gymnastics has muddied Ukraine’s plea for more tanks as Russia prepares for a spring offensive, with Germany reportedly hesitant to send Leopard 2s until the US promises to send Abrams tanks – vehicles that Pentagon officials have publicly stated are not fit for combat.
Biden administration officials had confirmed to ABC News on Tuesday that they were considering sending the Abrams tanks to Ukraine as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. This means that the United States will arrange the procurement of the tanks with their manufacturer, which could mean that the vehicles cannot be put into service for some time, perhaps more than a year.
Early Wednesday, Germany confirmed that it would supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks and would approve requests from dozens of other countries to do the same. The UK has also committed 12 of its own Challenger 2 main battle tanks, and Poland has asked Germany for permission to send the Leopards it has in stock.
Still, that’s still a far cry from the 300 main battle tanks Zelenskyy said he needed for the war.
US officials have argued that this new shipment of tanks highlights unity among all allies working to support Ukraine, downplaying disagreement between the US and Germany over the usefulness of Abrams vehicles.
Zelenskyy reacted to the tank engagements in a new SkyNews interview.
“I would like to thank Germany, Great Britain and the United States for taking this decision,” he said.
Russia reacts: “Burn… like the others”
The Kremlin has played down the importance of the new tank supply, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying in his daily briefing on Wednesday that “supplying US-made Abrams tanks to Ukraine will not work, because its initiators overestimate the potential of the Ukrainian military”.
“I’m sure that many specialists overestimate the absurdity of this idea. Simply because it is a rather bad plan in its technological aspects and, above all, there is an obvious overestimation of the potential that it could add to the forces Ukrainian armies. Yet this is another deep misconception,” he added.
“We have said many times that these tanks will burn like any other,” Peskov said.
More international engagements to come, official says
Biden planned to summon German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak later in the morning, an official said Wednesday.
“We expect other nations to announce additional armored capability contributions, including some that will be readily available for battlefield use in the coming weeks,” an official said.
Ukraine wants advanced American and German tanks quickly, because they are more advanced than Russia’s.
“Hundreds of thanks are not hundreds of tanks,” Zelenskyy said last week. “We can all use thousands of words in discussions, but I can’t put words in place of the guns that are needed against Russian artillery or the anti-aircraft missiles that are needed to protect people Russian air strikes.”
A Biden official acknowledged that delivery of the Abrams tanks “will take some time,” without going into a specific timeframe, but said it would take “months, not weeks.”
The Biden administration last week announced another massive military aid package for Ukraine — including nearly 150 additional armored vehicles — but not the tanks Ukraine requested.
ABC News’ Libby Cathey, Shannon K. Crawford, Luis Martinez, Matt Seyler and Joseph Simonetti contributed to this report.