US decides against sending tanks to Ukraine in aid package
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After all the talk around tanks, the U.S. chose not to include them in the latest aid package for Ukraine. We’ll talk about why the decision was made and what that means for Kyiv.
We’ve also got the rundown on $125 million in U.S. funding to support Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s vow to retake the Crimean peninsula.
For The Hill, I’m Brad Dress. Let’s jump in.
US says no to tanks
The Biden administration has decided against sending tanks to Ukraine for now, which comes after weeks of buzz around the topic.
Sabrina Singh, the deputy Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Thursday it “doesn’t make sense” to give Ukraine the tanks at this stage.
“The maintenance and the high cost that it would take to maintain an Abrams, it just doesn’t make sense to provide that to the Ukrainians at this moment,” Singh said.
A blow to Kyiv: Ukraine has been asking for the M1 Abrams main battle tank and other, modern tanks for months amid its war with Russia.
Ukraine is expecting a big offensive from Russia in the spring and will also need to conduct another major counteroffensive of its own to keep the upper hand in the war.
Kyiv has had its hands on Soviet-era tanks upgraded for use but would like the firepower offered from modern, western-designed tanks.
“There is no rational reason why Ukraine has not yet been supplied with Western tanks,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted earlier this month.
Group pressure: Germany is also refusing to provide its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine unless the U.S. goes first with its M1 Abrams.
A group of European nations is forming to put more pressure on Berlin to allow them to transfer Leopard tanks in their country’s stocks to Ukraine, Politico reported.
While 12 European nations operate the tanks, Germany would need to give the final OK to ship them over to Kyiv because of certain rules.
Not tanks, but Strykers: Instead of the prized M1 Abrams, the U.S. is expected to announce for Ukraine another shipment of Bradleys and, for the first time, Strykers.
The Strykers are eight-wheeled armored transports with attached machine guns and grenade launchers.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is meeting with about 50 defense ministers on Friday in Ramstein, Germany, where he will deliver remarks and hold a press conference.
Read the full story here.
US boosting Ukrainian energy infrastructure
The Biden administration announced it will provide Ukraine with $125 million to support its energy infrastructure, drawing from a $45 billion legislative aid package passed in December.
The funding will help Ukraine maintain water supplies and heating systems in and around Kyiv.
Russian attacks: Russia has relentlessly bombarded Ukrainian critical infrastructure and energy grids since October, leaving millions without water, power and heat.
The missile and explosive drone attacks have crippled Ukraine’s facilities, destroying about half of the nation’s energy infrastructure.
Ukraine’s will: Despite the missile and drone strikes, intended to break the people’s will, Ukraine is not losing its spirit in the war.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Moscow has “sought to sap Ukraine’s resilience and determination during the cold winter months.”
“Nevertheless, these attacks have made the Ukrainians only even more determined to persevere,” Blinken said in a statement.
Read more here.
Zelensky vows again to retake Crimea
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for supportive nations to “give us your weapons” so Ukraine can retake the Crimean peninsula.
“Crimea is our land, our territory,” Zelensky said during a video appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “It is our sea and our mountains. Give us your weapons — we will return what is ours.”
A bold pledge: Zelensky, emboldened in the past few months by Ukraine’s military successes, has said this before.
In August, amid a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kherson region, the Ukrainian leader promised to take back all territory in his country, including Crimea.
Quick history lesson: Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 after conducting what the U.S. called a sham vote and has occupied the peninsula ever since.
Fighting also broke out in 2014 between Ukrainian military forces and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which eventually culminated in Russia invading the country last February.
Warming up: The U.S., fearing escalation with Russia, has so far not signaled public support for arming Ukraine with the weapons needed to retake Crimea.
But U.S. officials are warming up to the idea of arming Ukraine with the resources needed for such an offensive, The New York Times reported this week.
Read that story here.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivers opening remarks at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at 4 a.m. ET at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, before a 10:30 a.m. press conference with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
- Center for Strategic and International Studies holds a discussion at 3:30 p.m. ET with author Susan Shirk on her book, “Overreach: How China Derailed its Peaceful Rise.”
- The Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Woodrow Wilson Center Mexico Institute will hold a virtual discussion at 10 a.m. ET reviewing the North American Leaders Summit earlier this month.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Coast Guard monitoring suspected Russian spy ship near Hawaii
- Zelensky says he doesn’t know who makes decisions in Russia
- Putin ally: Russia’s defeat in Ukraine could trigger nuclear war
- Most Democrats in new poll support probe into Biden classified documents
- House Oversight GOP to feature Border Patrol agents in February hearing
- Senate stares down immigration fight
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Circling Valkyries over the Kremlin
- How far should US intelligence go in supporting Russia’s armed opposition?