Russian forces in Ukraine will face additional armor and firepower, following an agreement between the United States and Germany to send some of the world’s most lethal and coveted tanks into the fight.
In Ukraine, locals have been celebrating the announcements by wearing leopard print designs, sources inside the country told Soldier of Fortune.
The U.S. announced Wednesday it will procure and send to Ukraine 31 M1 Abrams tanks, described by American officials as “the best in the world,” enough for Kyiv to field a complete Ukrainian tank battalion.
Washington’s decision followed weeks of talks with key allies, and paved the way for Berlin’s own announcement Wednesday that it will provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 tanks, and would open a path for other allies to send their own stocks of the German-made tanks.
“With spring approaching, Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and preparing for additional counter offensives to liberate their land,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. The announcement came nearly a year after Russian troops first invaded Ukraine.
“They [Ukraine] need to be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term,” Biden added during his remarks at the White House. “And they need an enduring capability to deter and defend against Russian aggression over the long term.”
Germany sending tanks
The Leopard 2 tanks from Germany will come directly from German stocks, and they will include ammunition and logistics support. German officials also said training for Ukrainian troops on the tanks will begin soon in Germany.
READ MORE about Leopard 2 tanks being sent to Ukraine
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the decision to send the Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was “the result of renewed intense consultations with our allies and international partners.”
“Our goal is to quickly make two tank battalions available together with our allies,” Scholz said. “Germany will always be at the forefront when it’s about supporting Ukraine.”
Following the German announcement, Poland and Finland said they, too, would provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks. The Netherlands and Spain said they also are open to the possibility.
How quickly Ukraine will be able to incorporate the Leopard 2 tanks into its arsenal and get them on the battlefield remains to be seen. But Ukrainian officials see the German tanks as part of a one-two punch, which will be followed in the coming months with the rollout of a Ukrainian battalion of U.S.-made M1 Abrams tanks.
For now, U.S. officials caution that the arrival of the M1 Abrams will take months, though training for Ukrainian troops on how to operate them and additional training for tank maintenance crews will get underway soon outside of Ukraine.
Altogether, the package is worth about $400 million, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
About-face for US
American officials initially had dismissed the idea of sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine. They warned that Abrams tanks are difficult to maintain and require more fuel than Kyiv can spare.
“We should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and that they, over the long term, can’t afford, because it’s not helpful,” Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters just last week.
But the Biden administration on Wednesday downplayed such concerns, saying the change in thinking is based on events on the ground.
“We’ve been talking about tanks internally, and we certainly have been talking about tanks externally with allies and partners now for quite some time given what we expect will be the kind of fighting that will occur in the weeks and months ahead,” a second senior administration official told reporters. “We do expect that Mr. Putin [Russian President Vladimir Putin] and the Russian military will try to go on the offense here in coming weeks and months as the weather gets better.”
Russia: tanks will be ‘destroyed’
Word of the German and U.S. decision to send top-end battle tanks to Ukraine was met with a new round of warning from Russian officials that the decisions would only serve to escalate the conflict.
Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s envoy to the United States, described the pending U.S. decision as “another blatant provocation against Russia” in remarks posted on the embassy’s Facebook page.
“It is obvious that Washington is purposefully trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us,” Antonov said, while vowing the American tanks “without any doubt will be destroyed as all other samples of NATO military equipment.”
Ukrainian officials have said Western battle tanks, like the Leopard and the Abrams, will allow their forces to maneuver more effectively, with greater firepower and protection, as they seek to push back Russian forces occupying their country.
With reporting from VOA.