US President Biden announced on Wednesday that he plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reversing the government’s long-standing resistance to Kiev’s requests for the highly advanced but heavy-maintenance vehicles.
Biden said in the White House remarks that this US support is about helping Ukraine “defend its sovereignty” and that sending tanks does not mean it is an “offensive threat”.
Biden’s announcement came after Germany confirmed earlier Wednesday that it would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its stock to Ukraine. The two nations seemed to be at an impasse, as German officials indicated that Berlin would only send their Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine if the US sent the M-1 Abrams tanks.
If you’re just reading up, here’s what you need to know about today’s developments:
Why this is important: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on “At This Hour” Wednesday that the tanks will “significantly bolster Kiev’s combat capabilities.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has consistently asked Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares for an expected major Russian counter-offensive in the spring.
With both the US and Germany committed to sending tanks to Ukraine, other countries, especially those with German-made tanks, have also announced contributions to the front lines. CNN cannot confirm the total number of Leopard 2 tanks to be delivered, but pledges made so far by multiple countries mean the Ukrainian military is lining up to receive dozens of tanks. Germany’s main ruling party said on Wednesday that Ukraine’s western allies will send the country a total of about 80 Leopard 2 main battle tanks.
Why send tanks now: Sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine will provide Kiev’s armed forces with a modern and powerful military vehicle ahead of a possible Russian spring offensive. It will also be a blow to the Kremlin, which has seen a growing campaign to equip Ukrainian troops with high-tech combat systems as Russia’s ground war drags on for nearly a year.
Prior to Biden’s announcement, senior US officials portrayed the decision as an investment in Ukraine’s “long-term capabilities”, an indication that the administration sees the now 11-month war stretching far into the future. Ukraine hopes the new tanks can help recapture land taken by Russia, including in the Donbas. That could also be Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
Possible challenges: The Abrams tanks will take months to arrive, senior Biden administration officials said, and will require extensive training of Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain them. The US has to navigate complicated supply chains for the components needed for the tanks.
The procurement process will take months, the officials said, though the German leopards will arrive sooner rather than later. In the meantime, the US will begin an “extensive training program” for the Ukrainians on the Abrams, which will require significant upkeep once deployed. The training takes place outside Ukraine.
Portugal’s foreign minister said on Wednesday it will take two to three months for Western-donated Leopard 2 tanks to be fully operational in Ukraine.
Watch CNN’s Jim Sciutto break down the latest on the tanks:
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Stephanie Halasz, Sophie Tanno and Sugam Pokharel contributed reporting to this entry.