U.S. agrees to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine

In an abrupt volte-face, the United States announced on Wednesday it will be sending 31 advanced M1 Abrams tanks worth USD 400 million to Ukraine in a matter of months, a decision that helped break a diplomatic stalemate with Germany over how best to aid Kyiv in repelling Russian invaders.

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President Joe Biden dropped the bombshell, so to say, at the White House (WINK, WINK), saying the tanks were needed to help the Ukrainians “improve their ability to manoeuvre in open terrain.”

Biden extended his thanks to Germany for its decision to beef Ukraine up with Leopard 2 tanks and listed the other on-the-ground military hardware which other NATO allies and other European countries were sending. “Germany has really stepped up,” he said.

“The expectation on the part of Russia is we’re going to break up,” Biden said of the U.S. and European allies. “But we are fully, totally and thoroughly united.”

Washington has been weighing the idea of deploying the difficult-to-maintain Abrams tanks carefully but had to change tack in order to convince Germany to deliver its more easily used Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

The Polish government’s pressure on Germany has proven to be key in German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coming to the decision to send the Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Washington and Berlin’s decisions come amidst Western efforts to relieve Ukraine with military equipment ahead of a highly-likely spring counter-offensive planned at driving Russia out of territory it has seized.

“There is no offensive threat to Russia” from the tanks, Biden said.

“A historic day” is how the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, described the tank announcements, adding that they would help in determining the outcome of the war.

Biden said the U.S. decision was not a response to pressure from Germany, answering a reporter's heckled question. “Germany didn't force me to change my mind, we wanted to make sure we were all together,” he said.

Brings firepower to another level but with it resupplying conundrums

But the Abrams, one of the most powerful from the U.S. arms pile, looks to head to Ukraine in no sooner than in months’ time, according to senior administration officials. They have described the move as providing for Ukraine's long-term defence.

The location where the Ukrainian military will undergo Abrams manual training is yet to be determined. While being a juggernaut of a tank with mighty firepower, Abrams is also a highly complex and expensive weapon difficult to maintain and runs on jet fuel which ups the resupplying difficulty.

A single Abrams tank can cost over USD 10 million, taking into account training and sustainment.

According to a Reuters’ source familiar with the matter of American and German tanks, the U.S. decision on Abrams comes as a part of conversations with the Germans about their reluctance to provide tanks and to demonstrate that the U.S. commitment is indeed significant.

“The United States was willing to make a significant commitment to assist them in making theirs,” the source said. “The tanks are an important capability and if it took U.S. leadership then that's what we were willing to do.”

The Abrams tanks will be provided through a fund known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows Biden's administration to purchase weapons from the industry rather than taking them from existing U.S. weapons stocks. Buying them would make for a slower process.