US President Joe Biden speaks of continued US support for Ukraine in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, US, January 25, 2023.
Evelien Hockstein | Reuters
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it will equip Ukraine with the mighty M1A1 Abrams tank, a major reversal in the West’s effort to arm Kiev as it prepares for a new Russian offensive.
The 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks, amounting to one Ukrainian tank battalion, add to the more than $26 billion the US has pledged to the Kiev battle since Russia invaded almost a year ago.
The tanks will “enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives,” Biden said from the White House’s Roosevelt Room.
“It will take time to deliver these tanks to the field. Time we will see and we will use to make sure that the Ukrainians are fully prepared,” he added.
Biden later added, “That’s what it’s about: helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It’s not an offensive threat to Russia.”
The US will also provide eight M88 recovery vehicles to support the M1A1 Abrams. The Biden administration will also send more than 500 armored vehicles of various types to bolster Ukraine’s military.
The US plans to buy the new M1s with money from the congressional approved Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
It will “take some time” for the tanks to be delivered to Ukraine, a senior Biden administration official said Wednesday.
“We’re talking months, not weeks,” said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, basic rules set by the administration.
An M1A2 SEP (V2) Abrams Main Battle Tank is unloaded
Staff Sergeant Grady Jones | US Army | Flickr CC
The Pentagon has been instructed to provide training, maintenance and logistical support for the M1A1 tanks, the official said. Another US official said training on how to use the tanks, which will take several months, will take place outside Ukraine.
The U.S. sudden U-turn follows weeks of hesitation to send the tanks. The government questioned whether they would give Ukraine an advantage, as they require significant effort to preserve.
“The real challenge of getting the Ukrainians M1A1 tanks is not fuel, but maintenance,” Jeffrey Edmonds, a Russian military expert with the nonprofit national security research group CNA, told CNBC.
“Every system on the tank, from the turbine engine to the complex sights used by the gunner, is complex and requires countless intricate parts to function properly,” adds Edmonds, who has a military career spanning more than two decades.
Edmonds, who served seven years on M1A1 Abrams tanks, said the platform has specific parts that are “not interchangeable with other tanks and maintaining it is a skill in itself.”
US officials shared similar concerns on the podiums of the State Department and White House for weeks, as well as during Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s recent trip to Germany.
“The M1 is a very capable battlefield platform, and it’s also a very complex capability. And so, like anything we supply to Ukraine, we want to make sure they have the ability to maintain it, support it, train on it.” Pentagon U.S. Air Force Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Tuesday.
On Wednesday, a US official said the decision to send the Abrams tanks reflected an evolution of what Ukraine needed on a changing battlefield.
“This decision fits very well in an ongoing conversation with allies and partners and, of course, with Ukraine,” the official said.
At almost 70 tons, the sturdy M1A1 Abrams is one of the heaviest tanks in the world. It compensates for its weight with remarkable firepower and nerve-racking maneuverability.
Built by General Dynamics Land Systems, the M1 Abrams serves as the main battle tank of the United States military. It has been used in nearly every major US conflict since its introduction in 1980.
A US M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank during a training day at Exercise.
Copl. Tyler Main | US Marine Corps | Flickr CC
The addition of the US tanks to the latest military aid package follows German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks.
Germany said its goal was to “quickly assemble two tank battalions with Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine”. The country will provide 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks in what it called a “first step”.
The training of the Ukrainian crews will soon begin in Germany.
A senior US Biden administration official said Washington expects and welcomes the arrival of hundreds of armored vehicles and tanks in Ukraine from Western allies in the coming months.
Russia has been largely isolated from the world stage after its ruthless invasion of Ukraine. And yet, other countries accused of gross human rights violations continue to be held accountable by the international community. That begs the question: What does it take to be called a pariah state and who gets to decide?
The Kremlin on Tuesday denounced the possible arms transfer, saying it “will not prevent Russia from achieving our goals”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned the anticipated US announcement, saying “Unfortunately, more weapons from NATO bring more suffering to people in Ukraine.”
“It also brings more attention to the continent, but it cannot prevent Russia from achieving our goals,” he added.
The Russian ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, said the tanks “would again be a blatant provocation against the Russian Federation.”
“If a decision is made to transfer M1 Abrams to Kiev, US tanks will be destroyed without any doubt, as will all other samples of NATO military equipment,” he said.