The United States appears poised to approve the delivery of highly advanced battle tanks to Ukraine in its fight against the nearly one-year-old Russian invasion.
U.S. news outlets say the administration of President Joe Biden could announce its decision as early as Wednesday. The decision to send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, as part of a diplomatic understanding with Germany regarding provision of some of its tanks, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
U.S. officials quoted in the reports say the United States 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 insert them onto 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.
News of the U.S. deliberations was greeted angrily by Russia. Reuters is reporting that Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s envoy to the United States, said in a message on the embassy’s Telegram messaging app that a possible delivery of tanks by the United States to Ukraine would be “another blatant provocation against Russia.”
“It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” Antonov reportedly said.
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.