The United States and Germany are moving ahead with plans to supply Ukraine with highly advanced battle tanks to bolster its fight against the nearly one-year old Russian invasion.
A spokesman for German Prime Minister Olaf Scholz issued a statement Wednesday saying Berlin will provide 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv, the first step in establishing two battalions with the powerful tanks in Ukraine.
The statement said the tanks will come directly from Germany’s military stocks. It also said that Ukrainian troops will soon begin training in Germany, and that Germany will also provide logistics and ammunition.
Prime Minister Scholz is expected to formally announce the decision during a parliamentary session later Wednesday.
Germany’s decision comes hours before the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce that it will send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The decision, first reported Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal, is part of a diplomatic understanding with Germany over its donation of Leopard 2 tanks.
U.S. news outlets say the administration is considering sending a little more than 30 of the sophisticated tanks to the Ukrainian battlefield.
A U.S. official familiar with the deliberations told VOA on Tuesday the White House is working to finalize a plan to get Ukraine the coveted tanks, though it could be some time before Kyiv would be able to take delivery and use them on the battlefield.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the plans, said the tanks would likely be provided through the Pentagon’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI). The fund allows the Defense Department to purchase weapons and systems either from defense manufacturers or from other sources, rather than draw them directly from U.S. stocks.
In this case, the official said the United States might seek to purchase the M1 Abrams tanks from other countries and refurbish them, before sending them to Ukraine.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who has pledged 14 of his country’s Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, welcomed the news from the U.S. and Germany in a post on his official Twitter account Wednesday, calling it “the right decision by NATO allies and friends” which will “strengthen Ukraine’s defensive firepower.”
“Together, we are accelerating our efforts to ensure Ukraine wins this war and secures a lasting peace,” Sunak wrote.
Russia: tanks will be ‘destroyed’
But Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s envoy to the United States, described the pending U.S. decision as “another blatant provocation against Russia” in remarks posted on the embassy’s Facebook page.
“It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” Antonov said, while vowing the American tanks “without any doubt will be destroyed as all other samples of NATO military equipment.”
Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the news as “a failed plan” during a telephone press briefing Wednesday. Peskov said the deployments of the U.S. and Germany tanks as an “overestimation” of its potential to help the Ukrainian army, and predicted the machines “will burn like all the rest.”
US changes mind on M1
The move to provide Kyiv with the tanks would represent an about-face for U.S. officials, many of whom have dismissed the idea of sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine, warning that while Abrams tanks are very capable, they are difficult to maintain and require more fuel than Kyiv can spare.
“We should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and that they, over the long term, can’t afford, because it’s not helpful,” Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters last week.
Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Patrick Ryder echoed those concerns Tuesday.
“Our focus has been on providing Ukraine with capabilities it can employ right now on the battlefield,” he said. “The M1 [Abrams tank] is a complex weapon system that is challenging to maintain. … That was true yesterday. It is true today. It will be true in the future.”
The shift in the U.S. position on sending Ukraine the M1 Abrams tanks came as multiple German news outlets reported that Germany had decided to send some of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine in addition to clearing the way for other countries to send their German-made Leopard tanks to Kyiv.
Earlier, following a meeting in Berlin, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Germany’s decision to allow allies, led by Poland, to send Ukraine the coveted German-made tanks.
“At this pivotal moment in the war, we must provide heavier and more advanced systems to Ukraine, and we must do it faster,” Stoltenberg said.
He added that providing battle tanks to Ukrainian forces is important in order to both repel Russian advances and to help Ukraine retake its territory.
Ukrainian officials have said Western battle tanks, like the Leopard and the Abrams, will allow their forces to maneuver more effectively, with greater firepower and protection, as they seek to push back Russian forces occupying their country.
“A few hundred tanks for our tank crews — the best tank crews in the world. This is what is going to become a real punching fist of democracy against the autocracy from the bog,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote on Telegram Tuesday.
In the meantime, the U.S. signaled that despite an initial reluctance to provide Ukraine with some weapon systems, it remains willing to shift gears as conditions on the ground change.
“We have not taken capabilities off the table,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Tuesday. “This is a conversation based on what our Ukrainian partners need, where they need it, when they need it.”
Several senior Ukrainian officials announced their resignations Tuesday amid what Zelenskyy said would be some personnel changes in his government.
Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov, who oversaw logistical support for Ukraine’s forces, stepped down from his post, citing allegations about a food procurement scandal that he denies.
Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko and the deputy head of Zelenskyy’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, also resigned without giving reasons for their departures.
“There are already personnel decisions — some today, some tomorrow — regarding officials at various levels in ministries and other central government structures, as well as in the regions and in law enforcement,” Zelenskyy said in his evening address Monday.
U.S. officials on Tuesday said there appear to be no indications that the corruption issues have affected U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.
“We’re not aware of any type of widespread issues regarding corruption that would negatively impact the fight,” said the Pentagon’s Ryder.