“These tanks are further evidence of our enduring, unflagging commitment to Ukraine and our confidence in the skill of the Ukrainian forces,” Biden said at the White House Wednesday, flanked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
The decision to escalate military support to Ukraine comes alongside a similar commitment from Germany, which announced Wednesday it would send 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks and approve shipments of the tanks from other countries. About 2,000 of the Leopard 2s are held by several countries across Europe, some of which have signaled their intentions to contribute to the effort to help Ukraine regain territory taken by Russia over the last eleven months.
Last week, defense officials from approximately 50 nations failed to reach an agreement to send Western tanks to Ukraine during the eighth iteration of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
“Hundreds of thank yous are not hundreds of tanks,” Zelensky told the group, pleading for Ukraine’s Western allies to greenlight the transfer equipment.
While German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was expected to announce a shipment of Leopard 2s to Ukraine at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, he instead said that Germany would not do so until the U.S. agreed to send its Abrams.
The Russian Embassy in Berlin called Germany’s decision to send tanks “extremely dangerous,” while Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday before Biden’s announcement that the U.S. supplying Ukraine with Abrams would be “absurd.”
The tanks are part of a new wave of increased military support for Ukraine from the U.S. and its allies, including Poland, France, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Canada, which ranges from anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to howitzer firearms. The U.K. has also agreed to send 14 of its Challenger 2 battle tanks.
The U.S. has provided over $27 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the war, with the Pentagon announcing $3.75 billion in new assistance last week that included 50 Bradley armored vehicles and more ammunition. Ukrainian troops are also currently undergoing training on the U.S.’ Patriot missile system at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the decision to send tanks “overdue” and said he hopes other European countries with access to Leopard 2s will move swiftly to provide Ukraine with more tanks.
Biden explained that the tanks are intended to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, emphasizing that there is no offensive threat to Russia. He also acknowledged the challenges in transporting, maintaining and operating the tanks, barriers that have held the Biden administration back from sending the tanks even as Ukraine has requested them for months.
In an address to Congress last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the U.S. for its military assistance but also pleaded for more.
“I believe there should be no taboos between us in our alliance,” Zelensky said, assuring American leaders that Ukrainian soldiers are capable of operating American tanks and planes.
The White House acknowledged that it will take time to get the tanks to Ukraine but said training on the Abrams will start “very soon.”
National Security Council Communications Coordinator John Kirby resisted suggestions that the U.S.’ decision was motivated by a need to provide cover for Germany.
“I wouldn’t use the word cover,” Kirby told reporters in a White House press briefing Wednesday afternoon. “What this decision does do is show how unified we are with our allies and partners and doing all of this in a coordinated way.”
Ukrainian officials applauded the announcements from the U.S. and Germany, and are asking for fighter jets next, but the White House has not commented on whether it will agree to supply Ukraine with the planes.