WASHINGTON – The US will send Ukraine 31 M1 Abrams tanks in a neck-snapping reversal from the Pentagon’s stated opposition late last week, senior White House officials said Wednesday.
“I’m proud to say that Abrams tanks are the best in the world,” one official said. “This is a tremendous new capability that Ukraine will be getting to boost its long-term defenses.”
Ukraine has been asking its Western supporters for armored tanks for months in preparation for a renewed Russian offensive expected this spring. Feb. 24 will mark one year since Moscow invaded the country, with both sides suffering more than 100,000 estimated casualties each.
The announcement comes six days after Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said “it just doesn’t make sense to provide [M1s] to the Ukrainians at this moment” because it uses a gas-turbine engine that runs on jet fuel.
In addition to the M1s, the US will also send 8 AM-88 recovery vehicles, which could help tow tanks that run out of gas.
“These are the vehicles that go with the Abrams to be able to provide coverage after operations to make sure that the Ukrainians will be able to keep these Abrams up and running over,” the official said.
White House officials said it will take up to a year to deliver the M1s, as they will not come from Pentagon stocks. Instead, the M1s will be purchased through congressionally approved Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funds – meaning it will take longer for the US to procure, package, and send the weapons to Europe.
The US announcement comes the same day German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his government would send Ukraine 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks – enough to outfit one company – and approve other nations’ request to do the same after weeks of hesitation.
It’s unclear when Germany’s tanks will be delivered to Ukraine, but the Pentagon has said Leopard tanks are a better fit for Ukraine’s battle because, unlike the M1s, they use engines that run on diesel, which is easier to send downfield.
Ultimately, Germany and its allies aim to provide Ukraine with 88 of the German-made Leopards, which will outfit two battalions. Once delivered, the 31 US tanks will make up an additional battalion, the officials said.
The synchronized timing is conspicuous, as German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius denied multiple reports last week that Berlin was holding out for the US to send M1s before contributing its Leopard tanks.
The same day, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin doubled down on Pistorius’ remarks, saying the Pentagon only considers sending weapons as a way to “provide capability” –not as diplomatic ploys.
“We don’t do things or employ capabilities as a notion, you know, for anything other than providing credible combat capability,” he said. “And that’s where our focus will be in the future.”
But the White House officials said Wednesday’s announcement “follows continued diplomatic conversations that we’ve been having over the last few weeks,” including talks held by Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley “with their German and European counterparts.”
“President Biden will be or had spoken with Chancellor Scholz several times this month to coordinate on security assistance to Ukraine,” the official said.
Another official said Scholz’s decision “really was a product of good diplomatic conversations.”
“We are certainly very appreciative of Chancellor Scholz’s announcement today,” the official said. “It really is remarkable if you look back over the last year to see the extraordinary shift in Germany’s security policy.”
The White House announced that Biden had spoken with Scholz, French President Emanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni ahead of a noon address at the White House.