U.S., Germany to send dozens of battle tanks to Ukraine

U.S., Germany to send dozens of battle tanks to Ukraine

After weeks of hesitation that saw growing impatience among Germany’s allies, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Wednesday that his government would provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 battle tanks and approve requests by other countries to do the same.

In a statement, the German government said it would initially provide Ukraine with one company of Leopard 2 A6 tanks, which comprises 14 vehicles, from its own stocks. The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with a total of two battalions, or 88 tanks.

“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability,” Scholz said after a cabinet meeting in Berlin.

Germany was “acting in close co-ordination” with its international allies, he said.

Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said that Germany had advised several allies of its plan ahead of the announcement, including Canada.

“Germany will always be at the forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine,” Scholz said later in an address to lawmakers in the Bundestag.

Reaction from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy:

The long-awaited decision came after U.S. officials said a preliminary agreement had been struck for the United States to send M1 Abrams tanks to help Kyiv push back Russian forces entrenched in the east almost a year since the start of the war.

The U.S. will send 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, reversing months of persistent arguments by the Joe Biden administration that the tanks were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.

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The $400 million US package announced Wednesday in short remarks from the White House by Biden also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles — tank-like tracked vehicles that can tow the Abrams if it gets stuck.

It could be months, given delivery time and training requirements, before the Abrams are on the battlefield.

By getting Washington to commit some of its own tanks Berlin hopes to spread the risk of any backlash from Russia.

Ekkehard Brose, head of the German military’s Federal Academy for Security Policy, said tying the United States into the decision was crucial, to avoid Europe facing a nuclear-armed Russia alone.

But he also noted the deeper historic significance of the decision.

“German-made tanks will face off against Russian tanks in Ukraine once more,” he said, noting that this was “not an easy thought” for Germany, which takes its responsibility for the horrors of the Second World War seriously.

Biden praised the approval.

“Germany has really, really stepped up,” he said. “The chancellor has been a strong strong voice for unity and a close friend.”

Kremlin blasts ‘disastrous plan’

Members of Scholz’s three-party coalition government welcomed the news ahead of the official announcement.

“The Leopard’s freed!” said German lawmaker Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a senior Green party lawmaker.

Two tanks are shown travelling down a rural road, green fields on either side.
In this undated photo taken from video and released by Russian Defence Ministry Press Service on Monday, Russian Army T-90M tanks roll to their position at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (Russian Defence Ministry Press Service)

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a member of the Free Democratic Party who chairs the parliamentary defence committee, said the news was “a relief for a mistreated and brave Ukraine.”

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Left party, each with current or historic links to Russia, were critical of the decision. 

“Germany risks being drawn directly into the war as a result,” said AfD co-leader, Tino Chrupalla.

“The supply of Leopard battle tanks, which ends a further taboo, potentially takes us closer to a third world war than in the direction of peace in Europe,” Left parliamentary Leader, Dietmar Bartsch, told German news agency dpa.

Earlier this week, Poland formally asked Germany to approve sending Leopard 2 tanks from Polish stocks to Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described German and U.S. intentions with the tanks as a “a rather disastrous plan.”

“I am convinced that many specialists understand the absurdity of this idea,” Peskov told reporters Wednesday.

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Peskov predicted “these tanks will burn down just like all the other ones…. Except they cost a lot, and this will fall on the shoulders of European taxpayers.”

The Biden administration’s reversal comes just days after a coalition of more than 50 senior defence officials from Europe and beyond met in Germany to discuss Ukraine’s war needs, and battle tanks were a prime topic.

The M1 Abrams tanks require jet fuel, and the U.S. cited extensive and complex maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicles, the requisite training and the sustainment of the tanks. 

While several House Republicans in Congress have objected to the amount of military aid dispensed to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began last Feb. 24, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday “it’s time, past time” for the Biden administration and allies to send more military aid to Ukraine, and that the U.S. must provide more tanks and weapons to help Ukraine “win this war.”

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