WASHINGTON: In what would be a reversal, the Biden administration is about to approve the dispatch M1 Abrams tanks in Ukraine, U.S. officials said Tuesday, as international reluctance to send tanks to the front against the Russians begins to erode. A decision to send just over 30 tanks could be announced as early as Wednesday, although delivery of the tanks could take months.
US officials said details were still being worked out. An official said the tanks would be purchased under an upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative program, which provides longer-term funding for weapons and equipment to be purchased from from commercial suppliers.
The US announcement is expected in coordination with Germany’s announcement that it will approve Poland’s request to transfer German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, according to an official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public.
By agreeing to send the Abraham at a yet undetermined point under the assistance initiative, the administration is able to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s request for a US commitment without having to send the tanks immediately.
Much of the aid sent so far in the 11-month war has been through a separate program drawing on Pentagon stockpiles to get weapons to Ukraine more quickly. But even under this program, it would take months to get tanks to Ukraine and for Ukrainian forces to train there. It was unclear on Tuesday how soon the United States will begin training Ukrainian troops on the Abrams and roughly how soon they will be able to get to the front.
The United States has so far resisted supplying its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing significant and complex maintenance and logistical issues with the high-tech vehicles. Washington thinks it would be more productive to send in German Leopards because many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the tougher Abrams.
Just last week, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the Abrams was complicated equipment, expensive, difficult to maintain and difficult to train. One thing that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin focused on, he said, “is that we shouldn’t be providing the Ukrainians with systems that they can’t fix, that they can’t not maintain and that they cannot, in the long term, afford, because it is not useful.
A US official familiar with White House thinking said the administration’s initial hesitation was based on concerns about required training and tank sustainment. The official added that the administration believes that such plans are now in place, but implementing them could take time.
At the Pentagon, Brigadier General Pat Ryder’s spokesman said he had nothing to announce on any US decision regarding the Abrams tanks. But he said, “Every time we’ve provided Ukraine with some type of system, we’ve provided the training and sustaining capabilities with that.”
The administration’s U-turn comes just days after a coalition of more than 50 senior defense officials from Europe and beyond met in Germany to discuss Ukraine’s wartime needs, and tanks of combat were a primary subject.
Ukrainian leaders have urgently requested tanks, but Germany has resisted mounting pressure either to provide its own tanks or to pave the way for other countries, such as Poland, to send the German-made tanks from their own stocks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deployment of Western tanks would lead to “unambiguously negative” consequences.
Defense leaders from countries that have Leopard 2 tanks met with the Germans at Friday’s conference at Ramstein Air Base in a bid to reach an agreement.
On Sunday, Berlin said it would not stand in the way if other countries wanted to send the Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv. Germany must agree to the tanks being handed over to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.
American and German officials gave mixed signals about whether the American and German decisions are linked, and whether Berlin was reluctant to send its tanks unless the United States sent Abrams.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday that Poland had formally asked Germany for permission to transfer its Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine.
German officials confirmed to the dpa news agency that they had received the request and said it would be assessed “as a matter of urgency”. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday that Berlin would not seek to prevent Poland from supplying the high-tech armor to Kyiv.
German officials declined to comment on reports of a tank deal. The news weekly Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday, without citing a source, that Germany will supply Ukraine with at least one company of Leopard 2 tanks from its own army stock. A company includes 15 tanks.
Scholz is due to deliver a speech to parliament on Wednesday and answer questions from lawmakers, many of whom have urged the government to join with allies in supplying the tanks to Ukraine.
Congressional lawmakers have also pushed for the United States to step up aid to Ukraine.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday “it’s time, long overdue” for the Biden administration and its allies to send more military aid to Ukraine, and that the United States must provide more tanks and weapons to help Ukraine “win this war”.
“It’s time, long overdue, for the Biden administration and our allies to take seriously the idea of ​​helping Ukraine finish the job and take their country back.”
Likely plans to send the Abrams were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

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