BERLIN – Germany and the United States announced Wednesday that they will send advanced battle tanks to Ukraine, offering what one expert called an “armored punching force” to help Kyiv break combat stalemates as the Russian invasion enters its 12th month.
The announcement marked the first stage of a coordinated effort by the West to provide dozens of the heavy weapons, which Ukrainian military commanders said would enable counter- offensives, reduce casualties and help restore dwindling ammunition supplies.
President Joe Biden said the U.S. will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, reversing months of persistent arguments by Washington that they were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The U.S. decision followed Germany’s agreement to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany had refused to send the Leopards unless the U.S. put its Abrams on the table, not wanting to incur Russia’s wrath without the U.S. making a similar commitment.
“This is the result of intensive consultations, once again, with our allies and international partners,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told German lawmakers. “It was right, and it is important that we didn’t let ourselves be driven” into the decision.
Biden said European allies have agreed to send enough tanks to equip two Ukrainian tank battalions, or a total of 62 tanks.
“To liberate their land, they need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term,” Biden said.
Several European countries have equipped their armies with Leopard 2 tanks, and Germany’s announcement means they can give some of their stocks to Ukraine.
Speaking in a video address late Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the creation of what he described as a “tank coalition.”
“We must form a tank fist, a fist of freedom whose hits will not let tyranny stand up again,” Zelenskyy said.
He said Ukraine will push for more weapons, including long-range missiles and aircraft.
“The terrorist state must lose. The right to life must be protected, and it will be so,” Zelenskyy said.
Though it will take months before the tanks arrive, Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines said the decision comes at a critical point.
“Tanks will help reduce casualties among our soldiers … then gain new results and win this war quicker,” said Oleksander Syrotiuk, commander of a company in the 17th Tank Brigade deployed in Bakhmut.
Ukrainian soldiers and experts said Ukrainian forces are running low on spare parts to repair old Soviet-era tanks and the specific ammunition they require while enduring relentless barrages of Russian artillery. The Western tanks could help open a new pipeline for ammunition to flow to Ukraine.
With an expected springtime Russian offensive looming, the tanks will also enable Ukraine’s forces to launch new offensives and curb casualties, three military commanders, including two in the army’s tank division, told The Associated Press.
“Without the new tanks, we cannot win this war,” said Maksim Butolin, chief sergeant of the 54th Brigade’s Tank Division. He spoke to the AP by phone earlier this week from near the Bakhmut front.
Ukrainian forces have had to preserve ammunition and deal with frequent breakdowns and maintenance issues, Syrotiuk said.
“The main problem we have with our tanks is they are old,” he said.
Expressing a preference for the Leopard 2, which he said was more suitable for Ukraine’s terrain, Syrotiuk said the modern tanks had more precise targeting systems, better armor and equipment to allow nighttime operations.