BERLIN (AP) — Germany and the United States announced Wednesday that they will send main battle tanks to Ukraine, the first phase of a coordinated effort by the West to provide dozens of heavy weapons to help Kiev break stalemates in combat as the invasion continues. of Russia enters its 12th month.
US President Joe Biden said the US will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, refuting months of Washington’s persistent arguments that they were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The US decision follows Germany’s agreement to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stock. Germany had said the Leopards would not be sent unless the US put their Abrams on the table, not wanting to arouse Russia’s wrath without the US making a similar commitment.
“This is again the result of intensive consultations with our allies and international partners,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz told German lawmakers. “It was right, and it’s important that we didn’t get carried away” in the decision.
Biden said European allies have agreed to send enough tanks to equip two Ukrainian tank battalions, or a total of 62 tanks.
“As spring approaches, Ukrainian forces are working to defend the territory they hold and are preparing for additional counterattacks,” Biden said. “To liberate their country, they must be able to counter Russia’s evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield at very short notice.”
Several European countries have equipped their armies with Leopard 2 tanks and Germany’s announcement means they can give part of their supplies to Ukraine.
“German main battle tanks, further broadening of defense support and training missions, green light for partners to supply similar weapons. I just learned about these important and timely decisions in a phone conversation with Olaf Scholz,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter. “Sincere thanks to the Chancellor and all our friends in (Germany).”
Front-line Ukrainian soldiers welcomed the news, saying the decision comes at a critical point.
“Tanks will help to reduce casualties among our soldiers … in order to then achieve new results and win this war faster,” said Oleksander Syrotiuk, commander of a company of the 17th Tank Brigade deployed to Bakhmut.
Ukrainian soldiers and experts said Ukrainian armed forces are running out of spare parts to repair old Soviet-era tanks and the specific ammunition they need as they endure relentless barrages of Russian artillery. An expected Russian spring offensive is also looming.
While it will be months before they make their debut, the tanks will allow Ukrainian forces to launch counter-offensives and reduce casualties, three military commanders, including two from the army’s tank division, told The Associated Press.
“We can’t win this war without the new tanks,” said Maksim Butolin, master sergeant of the 54th Brigade’s Tank Division. He spoke to the AP by phone from near the Bakhmut front earlier this week.
Ukrainian armed forces have had to conserve ammunition and deal with frequent breakdowns and maintenance issues, Syrotiuk said.
“The biggest problem we have with our tanks is that they are old,” he said.
Syrotiuk expressed a preference for the Leopard 2, which he felt was more suited to Ukraine’s terrain, saying the modern tanks had more accurate targeting systems, better armor and equipment to allow for nighttime operations.
Scholz spoke by telephone on 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 continued support for Ukraine’s struggle.
All five leaders agreed to continue military support to Ukraine in close Euro-Atlantic coordination.
The $400 million package announced by the US on Wednesday also includes eight M88 recovery vehicles – tank-like tracked vehicles that can tow the Abrams if it gets stuck.
All told, France, the UK, the US, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden will send hundreds of tanks and heavy armored vehicles to reinforce Ukraine as it enters a new phase of the war and attempts to break through entrenched Russian lines.
While Ukrainian supporters used to supply tanks, these were Soviet models in the stocks of countries that were once in Moscow’s sphere of influence, but are now aligned with the West. Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials insisted that their forces needed more modern tanks of Western design.
Russian ambassador to Germany Sergey Nechayev called Berlin’s decision “extremely dangerous”, saying it “moves the conflict to a new level of confrontation and contradicts statements by German politicians about their reluctance to get involved.” touch.”
Scholz had insisted that any decision to supply Ukraine with the powerful tanks should be taken in conjunction with Germany’s allies, primarily the US. By getting Washington to deploy some of its own tanks, Berlin hopes to share the risk of a Russian response.
Ekkehard Brose, head of the German Army’s Federal Academy for Security Policy, pointed out the deeper historical significance of the decision.
“German-made tanks will once again face Russian tanks in Ukraine,” he said, adding that this was “not an easy thought” for Germany, which takes its responsibility for the horrors of World War II seriously.
“And yet it is the right decision,” Brose said, arguing that it was up to Western democracies to help Ukraine stop Russia’s military campaign.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius warned that it would take about three months for the first tanks to be deployed in Ukraine. He described the Leopard 2 as “the best main battle tank in the world”.
The German government said it intended to begin training Ukrainian tank crews in Germany soon. The package that is put together also includes logistics, ammunition and maintenance.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the German and American intentions as a “rather disastrous plan”.
“I am convinced that many specialists understand the absurdity of this idea,” said Peskov.
“Just because of the technological aspects, this is a rather disastrous plan. Most importantly, this is a completely obvious overestimate of the potential (the supply of tanks) that would contribute to Ukraine’s armed forces. It’s just another misconception, a pretty deep one,” the Kremlin official said.
Peskov predicted that “these tanks will burn down like all the others. … Except they cost a lot, and this falls on the shoulders of European taxpayers.” he added.
Ahead of Scholz’s official announcement, members of his tri-partite coalition government welcomed the cabinet’s agreement to provide the domestically-made tanks.
“The Leopard is Freed!” German lawmaker Katrin Göring-Eckardt, a senior lawmaker from the Green Party, said.
However, two smaller opposition parties criticized the move. The far-right alternative to Germany, which has friendly ties with Russia, called the decision “irresponsible and dangerous”.
“Germany therefore runs the risk of becoming directly involved in the war,” fellow party leader Tino Chrupalla said.
Scholz tried to reassure people in his country who were concerned about the implications of sending tanks to Ukraine.
“Trust me, trust the government,” he said. “By acting in an internationally coordinated manner, we ensure that this support is possible without the risks for our country growing in the wrong direction.”
Other European countries, such as Finland and Spain, indicated on Wednesday that they were willing to part with their own Leopard or similar main battle tanks as part of a larger coalition.
Kullab reported from Kiev, 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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