BERLIN (AP) – Germany and the United States announced on Wednesday that they would send battle tanks to Ukraine, the first step in a coordinated effort by the West to provide dozens of heavy weapons to help Kyiv to break the fighting stalemate as the Russian invasion enters its 12th month.
US President Joe Biden said the United States would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, reversing months of persistent arguments from Washington that they were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
US decision follows Germany’s agreement send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks. Germany had said the Leopards would not be sent unless the United States put its Abrams on the table, not wanting to incur the wrath of Russia without the United States making a similar commitment.
“It is the result of intensive consultations, once again, with our allies and international partners,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told German lawmakers. “It was fair, and it’s important that we don’t get caught up” in the decision.
Biden said European allies have agreed to send enough tanks to equip two Ukrainian tank battalions, for a total of 62 tanks.
“With spring approaching, Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for further counter-violations,” Biden said. “To liberate their land, they must be able to counter Russia’s evolving battlefield tactics and strategy in the very short term.”
Several European countries have equipped their armies with Leopard 2 tanks, and Germany’s announcement allows them to transfer part of their stocks to Ukraine.
“German main battle tanks, expansion of defense support and training missions, green light for partners to provide similar weapons. I just learned of these important and timely decisions during a call with Olaf Scholz”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter: “Sincerely grateful to the Chancellor and all our friends in (Germany).”
Frontline Ukrainian soldiers welcomed the news, saying the decision comes at a critical time.
“The tanks will help reduce casualties among our soldiers…and then achieve new results and win this war faster,” said Oleksander Syrotiuk, commander of a company of the 17th tank brigade deployed in Bakhmut.
Ukrainian soldiers and experts said Ukrainian forces lacked spare parts to repair old Soviet-era tanks and the specific ammunition they needed while enduring relentless barrages of Russian artillery. A Russian offensive expected in the spring is also looming.
Although it will be months before launch, the tanks will allow Ukrainian forces to launch counter-offensives and reduce casualties, three military commanders, including two in the NATO’s tank division, told The Associated Press. army.
“Without the new tanks, we cannot win this war,” said Maksim Butolin, 54th Brigade Tank Division Master Sergeant. He spoke to the AP by phone earlier this week from the Bakhmut front.
Ukrainian forces have had to conserve ammunition and deal with frequent breakdowns and maintenance issues, Syrotiuk said.
“The main problem we have with our tanks is that they are old,” he said.
Expressing a preference for the Leopard 2, which he said was more suited to the Ukrainian terrain, Syrotiuk said modern tanks had more accurate targeting systems, better armor and better equipment to enable night operations.
Scholz spoke by phone Wednesday with Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the German Chancellery said in a statement. The exchange focused on the security situation in Ukraine and the continued support for Ukraine’s struggle.
The five leaders agreed to continue military support to Ukraine within the framework of close Euro-Atlantic coordination.
The $400 million package announced by the United States on Wednesday also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles – tank-like tracked vehicles that can tow the Abrams if it gets stuck.
In all, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden will send hundreds of tanks and heavy armored vehicles to fortify Ukraine as it enters into a new phase of the war and attempts to break through the entrenched Russian lines.
While Ukrainian supporters previously supplied tanks, they were Soviet models in stock from countries that were once within Moscow’s sphere of influence but are now aligned with the West. Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials insisted that their forces needed more modern Western-designed tanks.
Russian Ambassador to Germany Sergey Nechayev called Berlin’s decision “extremely dangerous”, saying it “brings the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts statements by German politicians about their reluctance to get involved”.
Scholz had insisted that any decision to supply Ukraine with the powerful tanks should be taken in conjunction with Germany’s allies, principally the United States. By forcing Washington to commit some of its own tanks, Berlin hopes to share the risk of a violent Russian reaction.
Ekkehard Brose, head of the German Army’s Federal Academy for Security Policy, noted the decision’s deeper historical significance.
“German-made tanks will again face Russian tanks in Ukraine,” he said, adding that it was “not an easy thought” for Germany, which takes its responsibility for the horrors of the Second World War.
“And yet, it’s the right decision,” Brose said, saying it was up to Western democracies to help Ukraine stop Russia’s military campaign.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has warned that it will take about three months for the first tanks to be deployed in Ukraine. He described the Leopard 2 as “the best battle tank in the world”.
The German government has said that it plans to quickly start training Ukrainian tank crews in Germany. The package being put together would also include logistics, ammunition and maintenance.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the German and American intentions a “rather disastrous plan”.
“I’m sure many scholars understand the absurdity of this idea,” Peskov said.
“Just because of the technological aspects, it’s a rather disastrous plan. The bottom line is that it’s a quite obvious overstatement of the potential (the supply of tanks) would add to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. is yet another mistake, quite profound,” the Kremlin official said.
Peskov predicted that “these tanks will burn like all the others. … Except that they are very expensive and that will fall on the shoulders of European taxpayers.” he added.
Ahead of Scholz’s official announcement, members of his three-party coalition government hailed the Cabinet’s agreement to supply the domestically-made tanks.
“Leopard is released!” German MP Katrin Goering-Eckardt, a Green Party MP, said.
However, two small opposition parties criticized this decision. The far-right Alternative for Germany, which has friendly ties with Russia, called the decision “irresponsible and dangerous”.
“Germany risks being drawn directly into the war,” said party co-leader Tino Chrupalla.
Scholz sought to reassure people in his country who were worried about the consequences of sending tanks to Ukraine.
“Trust me, trust the government,” he said. “By acting in a coordinated way internationally, we will ensure that this support is possible without the risks for our country developing in the wrong direction.”
Other European nations, such as Finland and Spain, on Wednesday signaled their willingness to part ways with their own Leopard or similar battle tanks as part of a larger coalition.
Kullab reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor and Matthew Lee in Washington, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
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