The Biden administration is closing in on sending Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine, a step that would provide diplomatic cover for Germany to send its own Leopard tanks and approve delivery from other countries.
An American announcement could come as early as this week.
US officials have repeatedly said that the sophisticated Abrams, which consume fuel and require extensive training, would not be suitable for Ukrainian forces.
But the decision would bridge a divide between the United States, Germany and other European countries over how far to go in arming Ukraine ahead of what is believed to be a key phase of the war. , while Vladimir Putin plans a major offensive in the spring.
The Biden administration is closing in on sending Abrams M1 tanks to Ukraine, according to the Wall Street Journal, a step that would provide diplomatic cover for Germany to send its own Leopard tanks and approve delivery from other countries.
President Volodmyr Zelensky has repeatedly called for tanks as the next phase of the war in Ukraine looms, but President Joe Biden has taken a cautious approach
Last week, the UK announced it was sending Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, but that did not prompt the US or Germany to immediately follow suit.
German officials are said to be alarmed at the sight of their tanks operating near the Russian border, with echoes of the Nazi advance during World War II.
Meanwhile, European diplomatic sources have frequently expressed frustration with President Joe Biden’s cautious approach, which they say is overly heeding Russia’s escalation threats.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that appears to be changing after a Jan. 17 call between Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in which the U.S. president agreed to consider providing Abrams.
A senior German official said the dispute appeared to be on the verge of being resolved.
At the same time, Poland officially requested permission from Germany on Tuesday morning to provide Leopard 2 tanks to the war effort.
Ukrainian soldiers ride an infantry fighting vehicle during offensive and assault exercises in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia
A soldier fires an RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher during exercises earlier this week
German exports of their tank require Berlin to give approval before they can be re-exported.
Amid these developments, Russia has further escalated the tension.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “these deliveries would do nothing good for future relations” between Berlin and Moscow, adding: “They will leave a lasting mark.”
It comes as Ukraine’s advances late last year have stalled with static front lines for the past two months.
Ukraine says tanks are crucial for the next phase of the war, giving its ground troops the protection and firepower needed to move forward.
“We need tanks – not 10-20, but several hundred,” President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram.
“Our objective is (to restore) the borders of 1991 and to punish the enemy, who will pay for his crimes.”
This year, some allies began to speak openly of Russia’s defeat, rather than a negotiated settlement.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly carried the message to Washington last week, when he said Putin was more vulnerable than ever.
Last week the UK announced it would send Challenger 2 tanks (pictured above) to Ukraine
“Until recently, its attacks on civilian infrastructure have been carried out with cruise missiles,” he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
“He now uses ballistic missiles to do the same thing – much, much, much more expensive.
“He’s clearly doing it because he’s run out of other ammunition.
“So now is the time, if we want to get this deal done – and, of course, we should and we do – we should be looking to get it done quickly.
“The conclusion has to be a Ukrainian victory and that dictates, therefore, that we need to step up our support at this point, when Russia has been on the back foot, to give the Ukrainians the tools they need to get the job done.’
Last week there were talks about delivering weapons from the West to Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany, but Scholz still held firm.
German defense group Rheinmetall said it could deliver 29 Leopard 2A4 tanks by April/May and another 22 of the same model by late 2023 or early 2024, if Scholz gives word.
It could also supply 88 ex-Leopard 1 tanks, a spokesman said.