The US will announce one of the largest military aid packages for Ukraine in the coming days, according to two US officials familiar with the plans. But Kyiv has asked for modern tanks, a request the United States has yet to grant, although the United Kingdom and Poland say they will.
So far, the US has appeared against sending them, although the UK and other key allies are preparing to send tanks that could be a game-changer in the war as Kiev prepares for a possible full-scale Russian counteroffensive.
The UK has already announced it will send 12 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, heralding a new stage in the international effort to arm Kiev and cross what had previously been seen as a red line for the US and its European allies.
Earlier this month, Polish President Andrzej Duda said his country would provide Ukraine with Leopard tanks, while Finland said it was considering buying the tanks.
The United States, which led the way in providing military aid to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion, now appears more cautious than its main allies, even as it far outpaces other countries in sending aid to Ukraine.
The largest U.S. security package to date, announced earlier this month, totaled more than $3 billion and included the first shipment of Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. The previous largest package was $1.85 billion. USD and was announced at the end of December.
The tanks are the most powerful direct offensive weapon provided to Ukraine to date, a heavily armed and armored system designed to meet the enemy head-on rather than fire from afar. With proper deployment and training, they could allow Ukraine to retake territory against Russian forces that had time to dig in defensive lines. The US has begun supplying upgraded Soviet-era T-72 tanks, but modern Western tanks are a generation superior in their ability to target enemy positions.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Tuesday that the UK had decided to “step up our support” to the Ukrainians by sending tanks and other heavy equipment as they wanted to send a “really clear message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin that they would support Ukraine until they were “victorious”.
“It’s in nobody’s interest to see this be a long, drawn-out, crushing war,” said Cleverly of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “I mean, we see terrible images, like civilian infrastructure, residential buildings hit by rockets, women killed, children, bodies taken out of collapsed buildings. We can’t let this go on any longer than necessary… So the moral imperative is to see it through.
Ukraine has been asking for such tanks almost since the beginning of the Russian invasion. In April, President Volodymyr Zelensky famously asked for “1%” of NATO tanks, but the West has been reluctant to seriously consider it, worried about managing an escalation with Russia and the time needed to train tank operators and maintainers.
Despite Britain’s decision, the US has shown no signs of preparing to send its own M-1 Abrams tank. It acknowledged a willingness to consider sending modern tanks, but they were floating as a long-term option. But critics say now is the time as Ukraine prepares for the possibility that Russia will mobilize more troops and launch a new offensive. Training Ukrainian troops to effectively use the Abrams would take weeks, so the spring deployment window is closing fast.
Retired Army Gen. Robert Abrams, the former commander of US Forces Korea whose father was the tank’s namesake, told CNN that “the longer we delay a decision and the longer we take it, the more time we lose. .
“If we end up five months later saying, ‘Okay, okay, we’re going to give them some M1 tanks, take your pick,’ we’ve just lost five months of preparation time.” So a political solution really needs to come sooner rather than later,” he said.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington’s support for Kiev had shifted throughout the war and teased more reports, reiterating that the United States is committed to giving Ukraine “what it needs to be successful.” battlefield’.
Speaking alongside Cleverly, Blinken praised the UK’s decision to send tanks. “We welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to send Challenger 2 tanks and additional artillery systems to Ukraine over the weekend, items that will further strengthen and complement what the United States has provided, including our latest withdrawal.”
So far, however, no US official has signaled that the administration is likely to change its mind and send in American tanks.
The Pentagon says it’s not a question of managing an escalation with Russia or questions about getting heavy U.S. weaponry into Russian hands. The concern is how difficult it is to operate and maintain the Abrams tank, and whether a 70-ton tank would be suitable for Ukrainian forces.
“It’s a very, very different system than the generation of tanks they have in service now,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, former commander of the Army’s Maneuver Improvement Center at Fort Benning, Georgia. “So we’d have to go through a big training program with their army. It wouldn’t be something where you could just say, “Hey, we’re sending Abrams today and you’re going to fight him tomorrow.” It’s not even possible.
Much like the Patriot missile system training that the Ukrainians are now beginning in Oklahoma, the Abrams tank would not be fixed overnight—in addition to the major maintenance and logistical challenges, the Ukrainians would also need more training to learn how to operate and maintain the Abrams.
The latest reports show how far the US and its allies have come in a short period of time, from a focus on HIMARS and the howitzers they have already provided, to heavy armor, marking a “fundamental” change in the types of offensive weaponry aimed at Ukraine. to give its military “much more capability”.
“We’re trying to help Ukraine transform as quickly as possible to better, more capable, newer advanced weapons systems that are more dangerous on the battlefield,” said retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling. But he warned that such an effort would require a massive military infrastructure to support it with men, parts and supplies.
Just days earlier, before Poland said it would send tanks, the US announced it would send Bradley infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine for the first time – not tanks but “tank killers”, the Pentagon said – after France and Germany promised to send theirs. versions of your armor.
The coordinated announcements from Washington and Berlin, as well as the Paris announcement that followed shortly after, highlight how the US and its NATO allies have largely moved forward on advanced and heavy weapons. Instead of one country unilaterally going far ahead of the others, the alliance has continued to work closely together, using monthly meetings of the Ukraine Contact Group to locate and organize arms shipments.
All eyes will be on another similar meeting in Germany on Friday, when top officials will gather to discuss what else should be given to the embattled country.
The UK can send its own Challenger 2 tank to Ukraine, but Poland has admitted it needs approval from Berlin before exporting German-made Leopard tanks. German government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said last week that they had not received such a request from Poland or Finland. Hoffmann added that Germany is in close contact with the US, France, the UK, Poland and Spain over ongoing military aid to Ukraine.
Germany said on Tuesday it was unwilling to confirm the shipments unless the US sent its own tanks.
“We never go it alone, because it is necessary in a very difficult situation like this,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
If Germany offered to allow countries to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, it would open up a previously unlimited potential weapons stockpile to Kiev. About a dozen European countries operate the Leopard, which could provide Ukraine with a range of potential ammunition and spare parts, as well as additional tanks, once Ukrainian forces become familiar with the Leopard.
While Ukrainians welcomed the UK’s decision to send Challenger 2 tanks, experts warned that too many tank variants would only reduce Ukraine’s ability to maintain them.
“The more tank variants you put into the Ukrainian army, the more it would challenge their logistics,” Donahoe said. “I mean, Challenger is a completely different system than Challenger. [US-made] Abrams and a completely different system than the Leopard… There are big challenges with the integration of the Challenger if they are going to get more of the other western options. [main battle tanks].