Biden set to make U-turn on tanks to Ukraine amid mounting pressure
The Biden administration is poised to approve the transfer of M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine amid growing pressure to equip Kyiv with the heavy combat vehicles.
An announcement on the transfer could come as soon as Wednesday, according to U.S. officials who spoke to the Associated Press and other outlets.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle cheered Biden’s apparent U-turn, coming after a standoff between the U.S. and Germany over who would take the first step.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a former Marine, told The Hill that an announcement sending over Abrams tanks would be a “great first step,” but the decision should have been made last week.
“We always seem to do the right thing at the end of the day, but I don’t understand why it takes so long to do it,” he said. “I think this is pretty straightforward.”
The Abrams tanks would likely not arrive in Ukraine for months, although details are still being discussed, including how many of the tanks would be sent. At a press briefing on Tuesday, the Pentagon declined to discuss the reports.
A transfer of the battle tanks is likely to open up a direct channel for Germany to supply Kyiv with its more manageable Leopard 2 tanks. Berlin has also been under intense pressure to ship its Leopards to Kyiv or approve a transfer of the tanks from several European allies requesting the go-ahead.
Germany is also prepared to approve the transfer of Poland’s Leopard tanks to Ukraine on Wednesday, timed with the U.S. announcement, according to the officials who spoke to the AP.
The apparent breakthrough comes as calls to send over the M1 Abrams tanks increased this week on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) at a press conference on Tuesday calling for the transfer of the Abrams tanks.
“The fact that the tanks are going to flow from Germany, and hopefully from America, to me is something to celebrate,” Graham said. “It’s an acknowledgement that the goal is now to be with Ukraine until every last Russian soldier is evicted from Ukrainian soil.”
Ukraine, which is expecting a Russian offensive in the coming months, has requested heavier combat vehicles and modern tanks for months. Kyiv has only used Soviet-era tanks in the war.
Blumenthal, who recently returned from a trip to Ukraine, said he witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by Russian strikes.
But the senator also praised Kyiv for its successes on the battlefield and said the “Ukrainians can win if they have the tools that are necessary.”
“It is more than just tanks,” he said. “It’s also long-range artillery as well as more HIMARS. It is defensive weaponry like the Patriots. … [Ukraine] needs everything it needs to win now. There is an urgency to now. Time is not on our side.”
After the U.K. announced it would ship Challenger 2 tanks earlier this month, speculation mounted over whether Washington and Berlin would follow suit.
The U.S. announced last week a $2.5 billion package of security assistance for Ukraine, but chose not to include the prized M1 Abrams battle tanks. On Friday, a meeting of about 50 defense leaders from across the world ended without an agreement to send over tanks.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last week the Abrams, which require jet fuel, would be difficult to maintain on the battlefield.
But some lawmakers this week began pushing for Biden to send at least a few tanks to clear the way for Germany, after Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country would not “go it alone.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday that “NATO has to share the burden” on supplying Kyiv with the weapons it needs.
“All we have to do is send enough to unleash what Germany has and what the ten other countries in NATO have,” McCaul said.
That was echoed by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who said he supported “sending some Abrams tanks in order to unlock” the Leopard tanks on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
“I respect that our military leaders think the Abrams is too sophisticated, too expensive a platform to be as useful as the Leopards,” he said. “But we need to continue to work with our close allies and to move forward in lock step.”
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